Near East, Mediterranean and Islamic ceramics Collection, International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza

For the “ancient near east” or “fertile crescent” the section, with an exemplary choice of considerable historical value, documents the transition from the Neolithic period to the Iron Age in what between the Tigris and the Euphrates was one of the cradles of the “path of man towards civilization”. in the windows there are also Anatolian finds from Iran and the Achaemenid era.

Classical ceramics offer a representation of ceramic culture in the Mediterranean basin from the Bronze Age to the Hellenistic era in a well-ordered and didactically exhaustive corpus of materials, techniques, decorations and production centers.

There follows a vast body of fragments that complete the typological repertoire of making ceramics in the Islamic Near East from its origins to more recent times.

Six showcases dedicated to pre-Columbian art highlight the remarkable stylistic and formal quality achieved by the Peruvian and Mesoamerican cultures with “sixty-one archaeological cultures” of reference.

Ceramics from the Classical World
This display showcases ceramics from the Mediterranean basin from the Bronze Age to Roman times. Noteworthy are: Greek Attic pottery, Italic area with wares from Magna Graecia, the Etruscan bucchero and black-figured ceramics and Roman pottery tableware and large containers for trade. The extensive supporting educational material provides visitors with an insight into the life, culture and civilization of the time, with topics related to techniques (decoration and production), commerce and the dissemination of materials around the Mediterranean through a trade map that highlights the main sea routes.

Ceramics are important in dating archeological sites and also tell of the customs and traditions of the time. The role of ceramics in daily life is also explored (the banquet, the table, the kitchen, work activities, accompanied by a display of finely decorated oil lamps, considered at the time a precious commodity). The itinerary allows the visitor to follow the chronological and geographical development of ceramics. From the Greek area is displayed Aegean, geometric and Italic-geometric, Corinthian and Etrusco-Corinthian, eastern-Greek and Attic pottery. Italic areas are represented by Apulian, Magna Grecian (with figures, overpainted and black-painted pottery). Etruscan production is represented by bucchero, and black-figured painted ceramics.

Noteworthy is Attic pottery, whose production began around the seventh century BC, first with decoration of black figures, replaced by about 530 BC by the red-figure technique, a real revolution for the time, which gave Athens artistic prestige and dominance of the rich western export market. Among the most common forms are craters, hydrias (hydria), drinking cups (kylix), ointments pots (lekythos) and common bell shaped two-handled vases. Important and well represented is the Etruscan bucchero earthenware, a production dating from the seventh century BC from the area of ​​Cerveteri in Latium. This pottery was produced with refined modelling and firing techniques and primarily made for symposia and for used by the aristocracy. Elites appreciated its preciousness, with thin walls specific to southern Etruria, shiny surfaces and shapes recalling metalwork.

Pourer with vegetable decorative (300 BC)
In the 700 BC Corinth developed an eastern-influenced style with monsters, exotic animals and ornamental plant motifs (rosettes and palmettes) which decorated small vessels for perfumes and ointments.

Oinochoe with trilobate spout (460 BC – 450 BC)
In ambito greco si distinse la produzione attica, dapprima “a figure nere” (secc. VII-VI a.C.), poi “a figure rosse” (secc. VI-V a.C.).

Jar with mermaids and palm Phoenician (600 BC – 570 BC)
This characteristic pouring vessel (epichysis) has a cylindrical body, slender neck with narrow oblique spout and curvy flat handle.

Pourer with vegetable decorative (300 BC)
In the 700 BC Corinth developed an eastern-influenced style with monsters, exotic animals and ornamental plant motifs (rosettes and palmettes) which decorated small vessels for perfumes and ointments.

Oinochoe with trilobate spout (460 BC – 450 BC)
In ambito greco si distinse la produzione attica, dapprima “a figure nere” (secc. VII-VI a.C.), poi “a figure rosse” (secc. VI-V a.C.).

Jar with mermaids and palm Phoenician (600 BC – 570 BC)
This characteristic pouring vessel (epichysis) has a cylindrical body, slender neck with narrow oblique spout and curvy flat handle.

Ceramics of the ancient Near East
The valuable works collected in the small Ancient Near East department testify the multi-millenarian production of Iraq and Anatolia; they include a little nucleus of ceramics from Iran and glazed tiles from the Dario’s Palace in Susa belonging to the Achemenide epoch, 6th century a.C.

The area of the Near East also called Fertile Crescent was seat of fundamental events in the history of humankind toward the civilization: the Neolithic revolution and the urbanization process, that was focused in the South of Iraq where, at the end of the 4th millennium, the writing process started in the city of Uruk

The display of the ancient Near East is of great interest because it covers a large geographic area that has witnessed some of the most important phases of human history, from the Neolithic revolution to the beginning of the urbanization process and the introduction of writing. Several of the oldest cultures are documented through fragments and a number of mostly complete pieces.

Ceramics from Iraq cover a period of over 5,000 years, from the Neolithic cultures of the sixth millennium to the Parthian period (3rd BC -3rd centuries AD), including some fragments from the site of Baghouz in north-eastern Syria, culturally near to Northern Iraq. Anatolian ceramics range from the Late Chalcolithic (second half of the fourth millennium BC) to the Phrygian period (8th-7th centuries BC).

Our Iranian ceramics represent limited periods but are of great importance; in addition to fragments from north-eastern Late Chalcolithic Iran, noteworthy are two beautiful Iron Age zoomorphic vases, and glazed bricks of the Achaemenid period from the palace of Darius I at Susa. Completing the Museum’s holdings are two collections which are currently not on display which are dedicated to Palestine and Egypt. Palestine is represented by ceramics dating from the Bronze Age and Roman times, given by the Palestinian Department of Antiquities in the late 1920s.

Egypt is represented by eight vases and a great number of sherds, both made of earthenware and glazed faience. For the most part these vases date back to the Predynastic Epoch; the ceramic sherds are parts of Copt Epoch vases and Hellenic earthenware from Naukratis and from the area of Memphis. The numerous glazed faience sherds belong to a different epoch and they are part of both containers and different objects such as “ushabti”, inlay works, amulets and so on.

Vase (2350 BC – 2200 BC)
It is probably a water jug, a type known since the beginning of the Imperial period. The ceramic production of the Akkadian period (2350-2180 BC) includes various forms of domestic utilitarian pottery

Zoomorphic vase (1100 BC – 1000 BC)
They are funerary wares, referring to the god Teshub, identified by the bull that vomits water, the giver of life.

Bricks (521 BC – 358 BC)
In Mesopotamia we see the first use of glazed bricks with decorative function that is exemplified by the bricks of the famous Frieze of the Archers in the palace of Darius I in Susa

The islamic ceramics
The Islamic collection represents one of the most interesting example of the ancient Islamic production existing in Italy. Examples of siliceous faïence together with cobalt blue decoration, gold calligraphic patters are here shown beside more than one thousand fragment collected in 64 drawers.

The Museum’s collection of Islamic art represents a unique opportunity for visitors to appreciate the variety of the Islamic ceramic tradition, through a selection of objects produced across an incredibly vast territory spanning from Spain to Pakistan, between the 9th and the mid-20th century. Beside the exhibits in the showcases there are a rich selection of sherds, for the most part donated by Frederick Robert Martin between the end of the Twenties and the beginning of the Thirties of the 20th century.

In A1 one can admire the most ancient fragments of the collection, dating back to 9th century Iraq: they are sherds decorated with polychrome lustre, as well as a first example of blue-and-white, a colour scheme which later became the staple of the Chinese and the Islamic productions alike. The showcases on the ground level contain Iranian objects, the most ancient of which date back to the 9th and early 10th century. They are characterized by ‘slip-painted’ and ‘splashed-sgraffito’.

It was however the desire to imitate porcelain vessels from the Far East that inspired Persian ceramists during the Seljuq era (11th – 13th century) to experiment with new technologies and techniques, seeking to obtain equally thin and translucent products. These experimentations led to the development of stone-paste, mostly coated with turquoise or cobalt blue glazes, as well as lustre-painted vessels.

This paste characterizes exemplars (drawer B14) of mina’i ceramics, whose decorations over glaze recall the contemporary miniatures. During the Ilkhanid epoch in the 14th century, the under-glaze painting decoration became predominant; examples of this technique include the Sultanabad and Juveyn bowls. The imitation of Chinese porcelain continued under the Safavid dynasty (16th-17th centuries) with blue and white ceramics. Gombrun works, characterised by extremely thin and often engraved surfaces, have also been dated to this period.

Other vases and tiles come from Qajar Persia (18th-19th centuries) and are characterized by a perfect bland of traditional continuity and opening towards western influences. On the ground floor some contemporary pieces of furniture are exhibited, they are of a great ethnographical interest and come from different regions. Numerous sherds of Fatimid Egyptian ceramics (late 10th to late 12th century) are displayed in drawers A2-A8, encompassing a stunning variety of techniques, colours, and decorative motifs: here one can admire lusterware decorated sherds and the brilliant glazing over the siliceous faience.

The variety of the paintings under-glaze is outstanding: arabesques, inscriptions, figurative motifs and elaborated geometrical twists made in Egypt and Syria in Ayyùbide epoch (end 12th – half 13th century, drawers B1-7) when the palette of colours included the dark red. During the Mamluk epoch (end 13th – beginning 15th century) the siliceous faience was widely used, it was painted under-glaze with black and blue “sectors” motifs, or decorated only with the blue glaze, richly represented at MIC; the drawers B2 and B3 contain numerous bases of blue-and-white cups signed by the ceramists. The sherds in the drawers C3–C5 belong to the Mamluk Egypt, they are decorated with inscriptions and emblems on a clay body.

On the upper level the splendour of Spanish lustre-wares can be admired: albarellos, bowls, and large ornamental plates, sometimes embellished with blue motifs, with a rich decorative repertoire featuring stars, bryony leaves, and religious epigraphy in Gothic characters. Not to be missed the characteristic tiles from Spanish palaces, decorated in cuenca and cuerda seca; further examples can be found in the Museum’s section dedicated to tilework. The Spanish scene is completed by some brown and green fragments from Paterna dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries (drawer D13).

Equally rich is the collection of the material from Ottoman Turkey (16th -18th century): tiles, dishes and jugs, lively decorated in particular with the impressive red, typical of Iznik ceramics, showing fancy motifs. The later Turkish production is also on display in the showcase dedicated to Kütahya and Çhannakalè, revealing a less refined style but also indicating an enduring creativity adapting to new market requirements. Lively Qallaline tiles (drawer D5), featuring a simplified interpretation of Iznik motifs, are an important example of the ceramic production of North Africa under Ottoman rule. The visitor’s journey ends with a collection of modern pieces from Afghanistan and Pakistan, being an interesting example of technical continuity with ancient techniques, but also the expression of a still thriving craftsmanship in these countries. (GM)

Sherds of bowl (800 AD – 900 AD)
During the Abbáside epoch the Iraqi ceramists produced bowls and vases characterized by thin profiles, covered with white glaze and precious lustre paintings influenced by the art of the glass

Dish (1100 – 1200)
From the end of the 11th century a new white clay paste with a powder consistence was introduced in the ceramic production, it was the siliceous faience, probably created by the Persian potters

Dish (1590 – 1600)
During the sultanate of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) the centre of Iznik (the ancient Nicea) became the seat of the most important ceramic manufacture of the Ottoman empire.

Sherds of bowl (1000 – 1100)
Also in the Egyptian Fatimide epoch the lustre technique reached outstanding results, it was characterized by a great variety of calligraphic and figurative decorations, with animals

Jar (1390 – 1400)
This kind of containers were used to carry spices, balms, perfumes, syrups and pharmaceutical substances, sometimes traded in Europe

Albarello (1440 – 1460)
The well-known decoration with “flowers and leaves of bryonia” is typical of the Spain-Moresque production in Manises (a suburb of Valencia), around the half of the 15th century.

Star-shaped tile (1282 – 1283)
In Ilkhànide epoch, beside the rich vessels for the kitchen, many floor covering tiles and sheets were produced. This work is particularly noteworthy for the presence of the date 1282-83 (691 E)

Little Bowl (1150 – 1200)
During the Safàvide epoch the production a particular kind of lightness vessels called “Gombrun” spread out, this name derived from an important Persian Gulf port

International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza
The International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza was founded in 1908 and represents one of the greatest Museums devoted to ceramics in the world. The MIC preserves about 60.000 ceramic works, 6.000 of them are exhibited in the wide exhibition area, about 10.000 squared metres.

The International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza houses many works in its ample exhibition spaces; from Italian and European works from Medieval Ages to the nineteenth century, to important sections dedicated to pre-Colombian America, ancient Greece, the Roman period, the Middle East and Islamic ceramics.

Specific areas are dedicated to ceramics by the most important twentieth century and contemporary artists, both Italian and foreign. An impressive modern and contemporary collection containing pieces by Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Leger, Fontana, Burri, Arman, Baj, Leoncillo, Leoni, Spagnulo, Zauli, Melotti, Cerone, and other great masters. The MIC – Foundation represents a center for ceramic culture, it contains a specialized library (more than 60.000 texts), a school department, a restoration deparment. The review “Faenza” is edited at the MIC and sent to several museums and institutions in the world.

The Museum also contains a specialised library, the Giocare con l’Arte (Playing with Art) Laboratory for didactics utilizing the Bruno Munari method, and the Restoration Laboratory which has the task of maintenance of the works and also conservation in general, an essential point of contact for the technical and technological unique nature of ceramics. The Museum began publishing the review “Faenza” in 1913. The bookshop contains all of the Museum publications, from a wide choice of books dedicated to ceramics to a selection of ceramic objects produced by artisans from Faenza.