Among the thousands of vessels made in Kashan at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the group of which the present ewer is an example stands out for its technical virtuosity. Made with a central body, there is then an applied shell around it which is pierced with a finely worked design before being decorated. The manufacturing of a double-shell ewer such as this requires a very high degree of confidence; the chances that there will be a disaster in the kiln are very high. It is not surprising therefore that there are very few of these pieces. In his discussion of the member of the group in the Keir Collection, Prof. Ernst Grube lists just nineteen known examples (Islamic Pottery of the Eighth to Fifteenth Century in the Keir Collection, London, 1976, no.137, pp.187-188, pl.facing p.185). To this list, as well as the present example, can be added at least two other examples, one formerly in the Comtesse de Béhague Collection and now in Kuwait (Oliver Watson, Ceramics from Islamic Lands, London, 2004, no.N.9, p.341), and one now in the Khalili Collection (Ernst J. Grube, Cobalt and Lustre, London, 1994, no.211, p.195).
There are three basic forms which are found using this technique. The first, possibly the least frequently encountered, has a spherical body and vertical neck and mouth. The example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York is the best known of these, and is particularly important since it is one of only two pieces in the group bearing a date, of 612/1215 (Arther Lane, Early Islamic Pottery, London, 1938, pl.83B amongst many other places). The second, most commonly encountered form, has a rounded drop-shaped body rising to a cockerel's head mouth. The handle is formed by the tail feathers. The Keir Collection example is one of these; others are in the Freer Gallery, Washington (Esin Atil, Ceramics from the World of Islam, Washington D.C. 1973, no.23, pp.58-9), in the Louvre Museum, Paris (L'Islam dans les collections nationales, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 1977, no.186, p.108), and in the Ades Collection, London (Mehdi Bahrami, Gurgan Faiences, Cairo, 1949). A somewhat squatter version of this form is in the Islamic Museum in Cairo (Mohamed Mostafa, Moslim Ceramics, Egypt, 1956, pp.42-43 and pl.60 p.38). This last is also the most puzzling in that it is dated 562/1166, a date that was re-read, probably correctly, as 657/1259 by Mehdi Bahrami. These two dates therefore span the period of the early 13th century which stylistically would seem to be the most probable, reinforced by the date on the Metropolitan Museum of Art jug.
Our jug is of the third shape, very obviously deriving its form, as well as the idea of a pierced shell, from metalwork. Other examples of this form are in the National (formerly Iran Bastan) Museum, Tehran (Bahrami, op.cit., pl.XX), and the Khalili and al-Sabah examples noted above.
The vast majority of these ewers have a design of entwined scrolling arabesques, frequently enclosing animals and human figures and sometimes forming medallions around them. They are also always worked under a turquoise glaze, often with highlights, as here, in cobalt-blue. Our example stands out in its overall design. Only one ewer, in the National Museum, Tehran, shares with this one the concept of an overall lattice, but there the design and execution is not so refined. Not only is ours remarkable in this, but it also appears to be the only example covered with a clear rather than a turquoise glaze.