The form of this cobalt-blue glazed pottery ewer is taken from a metalwork form of which the late 12th century Afghan ewer now in the British Museum is the archetype (Rachel Ward, Islamic Metalwork, London, 1993, ill). Both follow the same proportions although the shoulder of the present ewer is more rounded than that of metalwork examples. It is likely that the shape was necessitated by the moulding technique. A number of moulds from Afghanistan datable to the 12th century were used to produce bowls of slightly squat profile, as is the profile of the present ewer's shoulder, and to stamp decoration of lively chasing animals or geometric lattices (Oliver Watson, Ceramics of the Islamic Lands, London, 2004, p.108/142-3).
The iconography of this ewer, with real animals depicted alongside mythical beasts, is remarkable. Although rare, depictions of elephants are not unusual and are usually associated with an attacking unicorn as described in the 293th night of the "Thousand and One Nights". The decoration visible here illustrates perfectly the contemporary taste for the 'aja'ib (the wonders), a literary style which began to flourish during the 12th century with works such as that by the famous cosmographer Muhammad Tusi Salmani (f. circa 1160) and later Qazwini (d. 1283) (L'©Etrange et le merveilleux en terres d'Islam, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 2001, p.35).