Honey-yellow Glazed 'fustat Fatimid Sgraffito' (FFS) Pottery Jar

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.

Honey-yellow Glazed 'fustat Fatimid Sgraffito' (FFS) Pottery Jar magnifing glass


Rare And Important Indian Talismanic Shirt (Jama) With Qur’anic Verses And The Jawshan Al-kabeer

North India or the Deccan, 17th-18th Century, Heigth: 72 cm., Width: 99.5 cm.

Cotton shirt inscribed with Qur’anic suras and the Jawshan al-Kabeer prayer in red and blue thuluth, red ghubar script, written in large panels on a green ground to arms, shoulders and lower section to front, reverse with large, symmetrically arranged foliate decoration on green ground. Its original bold colours highlight its strong design centred on quotations from the Qur’an, prayers, offering the promise of protection to its owner. The Bismillah (the first verse of the Holy Qur’an: “In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate”) in the middle in large, white thuluth followed by the first verse of Surat al-Fath from the Qur’an: “Indeed, We have given you, [O Muhammad], a clear conquest”. In her thesis on talismanic shirts Rose Evelyn Muravchick discusses the use of Qur’anic verses and the significance of the Surat al-Fath in talismanic shirts. Please see: Rose Evelyn Muravchick’s God is the Best Guardian: Islamic Talismanic Shirts from the Gunpowder Empires, University of Pennsylvania, 2014, p. 105. A 16th century Ottoman talismanic shirt which also bears verses from Surat al-Fath, in the Topkapi Palace Museum, is published in Hülya Tezcan’s Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi Koleksiyonundan Tılsımlı Gömlekler, İstanbul, 2011, p. 160. On the lower part are two of God’s names in monumental thuluth: “Yā Hannān (The one who is merciful to his servants) and Yā Mannān (the one who is tremendous in giving)”. The white, large thuluth inscriptions on the left and right shoulders read Yā Qādī al-Hājāt (Bestower of Desires). On the back the Surat al-Yasin from the Qur’an is written in thuluth script. The Jawshan al-Kabeer prayer is written both in the front and the back of the shirt in miniscule ghubar (dust) script. The 17th century collar, embroidered in red, green and corroded brown with typical Mughal floral designs. The scrolls with tulips on the front and those intertwined on the back of the shirt display Indian aesthetic. Similar scrolls decorated with tulips are found on the margin decoration of an album page 

From Bijapur, circa 1590, published in Victoria and Albert Museum – Arts of India 1550-1900, London, 1990, p. 112. A comparable Indian talismanic shirt, in the same size, from the Metropolitan Museum (inv. no. 1998-199) has been dated to the end of the 15th, early 16th century. Please see: Stefano Carboni, Daniel Walker, and J. Kenneth Moore’s “Recent Acquisitions: A Selection, 1997–1998; Islam.” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 56, no. 2 (1997–1998). p. 12, ill. (color). Also see: David Alexander and W. Pyhrr Stuart’s “In the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” in Islamic Arms and Armor, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015. p. 14, ill. fig. 15 (color). Another talismanic shirt from India, dated to 16th or early 17th century, is in the Khalili Collection (inv. no. TXT 0471), in London. An earlier Ottoman shirt, with similar tulip decoration is in the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum (inv. no. 539), Istanbul. Please see: Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Akbank, Istanbul, 2002, p. 248-49.

Talismanic shirts are found throughout the Islamic world and the earliest surviving examples are from the 15th century. In the Surat al-Yusuf of the Qur’an, a shirt of the Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) is described as providing him protection. He hands it over to his father Yaqub (Jacob) so it can heal his blindness. Talismanic shirts are usually inscribed with verses from Qur’an, names of God and of prophets and with numbers. They may carry images or symbols. The inscribed names of God are believed to be capable of offering protection and guidance to the owner. Although talismanic shirts can be worn to protect against many evils most of them seem to be intended as a shield in battle. These were believed to be imbued with protective powers and may have been meant to be worn under armour in battle. An important feature of this shirt is its small size. Almost all known examples including the rich collection in the Topkapi Palace Museum (Hülya Tezcan, Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi Koleksiyonundan Tılsımlı Gömlekler, TİMAS, Istanbul, 2011), are full sized. This shirt must have been made for a high-born youth, possibly a prince. Given the vulnerability of such shirts to damage it is extraordinary to find an example in such remarkable state of preservation.

Provenance: Private UK Collection, since 1857.

Lieutenant Lachlan Forbes or Captain William Halliday
The talismanic shirt was brought to the UK by either Lieutenant Lachlan Forbes or Captain William Halliday.

Lieutenant Lachlan Forbes was serving in the Indian army at the time of the Indian Rebellion, in 1857. Colonel Malleson in his The History of the Indian Mutiny recorded that “a force commanded by Lachlan Forbes, fought against river piracy, against Rup Singh who had taken possession of a fort at Barhi, near the junction of the Chambal with the Jamnah”. Please see: Colonel Malleson’s The History of the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58: Vol 5, p. 215.

Captain William Halliday was also a military figure serving in the Indian army. He fought and died during the Siege of Cawnpore, part of the Indian Rebellion. Cawnpore was an important garrison town for the East India Company forces. Located on the Grand Trunk Road, it lay on the approaches to Sindh (Sind), Punjab and Awadh (Oudh). By June 1857, the Indian rebellion had spread to several areas near Cawnpore, namely Meerut, Agra, Mathura, and Lucknow. There is a collection of letters from William Halliday’s wife Emma Halliday in the India Office Library.

Rare And Important Indian Talismanic Shirt (Jama) With Qur’anic Verses And The Jawshan Al-kabeerr magnifing glass