AN EXCEEDINGLY RARE EXAMPLE OF THE EARLIEST ISLAMIC FRITWARE
HONEY-YELLOW GLAZED ‘FUSTAT FATIMID SGRAFFITO’ (FFS) POTTERY JAR Fustat, Egypt, 11th-12th Century, Height: 17 cm.
With inverted pear-shaped body, short cylindrical neck and everted rim. The shoulder with three small lug handles. The buff fritware (or stonepaste) body carved with loose floral motifs, coated in a honey-yellow transparent glaze. The acronym FFS, ‘Fustat Fatimid sgraffito’, was first coined in 1967 by Professor George Scanlon. He used it to describe the earliest examples of Islamic fritware, characterised by a whitish, hard body, enriched with silica and glass particles, also known as stonepaste. Designs on these wares were incised directly into the ceramic body, without any layer of slip, and then covered in brightly coloured transparent glazes, which would pool in the grooves of the decoration. A dab of a differently coloured glaze was often added to the vessels for aesthetic purposes, as is the case with this jar, which features a green mark on its shoulder.
This type of ware first came to light over a hundred years ago when Fredrik Robert Martin and others excavated the rubbish heaps of old Cairo, Fustat. In 1922, Ali Bey Bahgat published FFS material for the first time in his work La céramique égyptienne de l’époque musulmane (Basel, 1922), establishing Fustat as the place of production on the basis of wasters found there. In 1947, Arthur Lane marvelled at the beauty of some of the FFS fragments in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, wondering “whether some pieces found at Fustat are not actually Persian imports” (Arthur Lane, Early Islamic Pottery, London, 1947, p. 23-24). Professor Oliver Watson describes such incised wares from Fatimid Egypt as “hidden treasures” of Islamic pottery in his publication, Ceramics from Islamic Lands: The al-Sabah Collection (London, 2004), and remarks on the extreme rarity of complete surviving pieces. Most recently, Dr Umberto Bongianino has devoted to FFS wares three articles appeared in the Bulletino del Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche in Faenza, Edizioni Polistampta, (2- 2014, 2-2015, 1-2017).
Two published FFS jars of a similar form with characteristic lug handles on the shoulder are known: a green-glazed jar missing its neck in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. no. 1777-1897), published in Anna Contadini’s Fatimid Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, 1998, pl. 33, fig. 1), and a blue-glazed jar in the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo (inv. no. 15490) (fig. 1), published in Bernard O’Kane’s The Treasures of Islamic Art in the Museums of Cairo (Cairo, 2006, fig. 238). There exist at least two more shoulder fragments from similar types of jar: a green fragment in the International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza (inv. no. AB 2230)(fig. 2), published in Bongianino, “And their Figures and Colours Should be Different—Part II” (Faenza 2015/2, p. 23, fig.19), and an unpublished blue fragment from the Abel Collection in the Musée Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels (inv. No. 5462)(fig. 3). There are six main glaze colours in FFS: honey-yellow, green, turquoise, purple-brown, dark blue, and colourless. The colours are not homogenous and there are many shades of each. Importantly, there are two wasters in honey-yellow from the collection of Fredrik Robert Martin, found at Fustat, indicating site of production, in the Museum of Mediterranean and Near East Antiquities (Medelhavs Museet) in Stockholm (inv. nos. NM 0416/1922 and NM S.N. 0023) [Figs. 4 and 5]. A honey-yellow glazed FFS fragment in the Benaki Museum, Athens (inv. no. 11123), bears an incomplete inscription which provides a date between 520 AH/1126 AD and 599 AH/1203 AD (Helen Philon, Early Islamic Ceramics, Athens, 1980, p. 263, fig. 590). Another FFS fragment of a large bowl excavated in 1964 by Professor Scanlon gives the date 556 AH/1161 AD (“Preliminary report: Excavations at Fustat, 1964”, JARCE 4, 1965, pp. 23, 26, fig. 40). An almost complete FFS bowl with a yellow-green glaze is set into the brick-work of the church of Sant’Andrea Forisportam in Pisa. The bowl was probably incorporated into the building at the time of its construction in the very early 12th century, which would confirm the 11th-12th century date of production for FFS postulated by Professor Scanlon.
Provenance: Private UK Collection
We would like to thank Dr Umberto Bongianino for his invaluable contribution in preparing this catalogue entry.