Dish, Persian, Timurid or early Safavid, second half of 15th century, stonepaste; painted in blue on white slip under transparent glaze, the Hossein Afshar Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

HOUSTON—The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, tells the story of the enduring, worldwide appeal of blue and white ceramics through the exhibition Between Sea and Sky: Blue and White Ceramics from Persia and Beyond. This exhibition brings together 74 works, including selections from the exceptional Hossein Afshar Collection of Persian art on long-term loan to the MFAH, offering a new understanding of Persian blue and white’s monumental contribution to the world history of ceramics. Between Sea and Sky is on view through Monday, May 31, 2021.

“We have an extraordinary opportunity to examine the ongoing allure of blue and white ceramics through one of the most significant collections of Persian art,” said Gary Tinterow, director, the Margaret Alkek Williams Chair, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. “Following our 2017 debut of Hossein Afshar’s collection in the exhibition Bestowing Beauty: Masterpieces from Persian Lands, we are delighted to share important, never-before-seen examples from the spectacular collection with our visitors.”

“It is our hope that these extraordinary Persian ceramics will shed light on a new and more nuanced understanding of the many complex layers of technical and artistic exchange between Persia and China and the significant contribution of Persian blue and white ceramics to the world history of ceramics,” said Aimée Froom, curator, Islamic art. “To be able to display these ceramics alongside the Museum’s global collections of blue and white ceramics for the first time is an added feast for the eyes.”

Exhibition Overview
Between Sea and Sky opens with the early trade history of ceramics, when cobalt blue from the Persian Gulf meets ceramic shapes and techniques from China. The story continues with the introduction of stonepaste, which revolutionized Persian ceramics and spawned an unprecedented flourishing of shapes, techniques, and colored glazes in the 11th to the 14th century—an area in which the Hossein Afshar Collection is particularly rich. Rare Persian blues also played a significant role, ranging from the luxurious and rare lapis lazuli (lajvardina) and turquoise (firouzeh) to brilliant cobalt, which adorn Persian ceramics, architectural tiles, glass, jewelry, and manuscripts. Locally mined and traded across Islamic lands and the world, rare Persian blues were as precious as gold.


Bowl with Fish, Iran, probably Kashan, late 13th–mid-14th century, the Hossein Afshar Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Chinese blue and white porcelain was highly prized and collected by the Islamic courts in Iran, Turkey, and India. The exhibition features three outstanding examples on loan from the San Antonio Museum of Art, including an extraordinary dish inscribed with the name of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (reigned 1528–58). A section titled “Inspired by China” highlights the creative synthesis seen in 15th– to 17th–century Persian ceramics, which combine Chinese dragons and other motifs with Persian blues, shapes, and decorative motifs. Chinese blue and white porcelain was also coveted and collected across Asia and Europe to the shores of England, inspiring local production along the way.


Base of a Water Pipe (Qalyan), Persian, Safavid, early 17th century, stonepaste, painted in blue and black under transparent glaze; molded, the Hossein Afshar Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Joining the exquisite works from the Hossein Afshar Collection are iconic blue and white objects from the MFAH collections, on view together for the first time. Demonstrating the many different cultural resonances of this wide-ranging tradition are selections of blue and white English porcelain and delftware from the Rienzi and Bayou Bend collections; notable Japanese Arita ware from the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation; and important examples of global contemporary blue and white ceramics. 

Between Sea and Sky: Blue and White Ceramics from Persia and Beyond | November 21, 2020–May 31, 2021


Posset Pot, English, c. 1630-35, tin-glaze earthenware (delftware), the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Bayou Bend Collection, gift of Katherine Prentis Murphy.


Covered Tureen and Stand, English, c. 1755, soft-paste porcelain, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Rienzi Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harris Masterson III in honor of Mrs Franklin French Divine.


Arita Vase, Japanese, late 17th century, ceramic, The Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation.


Dragon Bowl, Ralph Bacerra, 1979, porcelain, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection, museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund. © Estate of Ralph Bacerra.