Islamic, Fritware pottery, with underglaze painting in blue and black, 27.5 cm diameter. Syria (Raqqa), c.1200 AD.
Unlike the practice in the ancient world, or in China, the dead in the Islamic world were not buried with 'grave goods'. In these other cultures, therefore, large quantities of things survive in perfect condition, especially ceramics. However, most medieval Islamic objects are recovered from archaeological excavations, both scientific and commercial, and are usually broken and show other signs of damage. This dish was probably recovered from the pottery-producing site of Raqqa on the Euphrates in northern Syria. In spite of its missing fragments and the dulling of its once-shiny glaze surface, it is a masterpiece of Islamic ceramic painting – an alert hunting beast, perhaps intended as a cheetah, somewhat abstract in style to match the arabesque sprays against which it is shown. [Reitlinger Gift. EA1978.2183]