Persian earthenware and fayence are of many kinds, but our knowledge regarding their production is so uncertain that it is difficult to affix any accurate dates. The earliest pottery extant is supposed to be a metallic lustred ware, which it seems reasonable to believe was produced several centuries before our era. It is certain that the Arabs, after their invasion of Persia in A. D. 636, learned there and carried into Spain the art of making the lustred ware now known as Hispano-moresque. In Persia, fragments have been found among the debris of the older ruins of Rhages, which was finally and totally destroyed in 1250 B. C. These fragments are of two colors : yellow of various shades and lapis lazuli blue. Tiles with metallic lustre have also been found among the ruins of Rhages and date back to a remote age. None have been made since the time of Shah Abbas (A. D. 1582-1628), the art apparently having been lost. Some of these tiles are found eight feet in length, they are ornamented with figures in relief, and occasionally bear inscriptions.
Next in importance to this lustred ware is a very beautiful and close-grained earthenware, of which Chardin, writing about 1600, says : ” The earth of the fayence is of pure enamel, like Chinese porcelain, and it has a grain just as fine and transparent, which very frequently renders it difficult to decide whether an object is Persian or Chinese.” This difficulty is increased by the fact that we often find Chinese marks on pieces evidently made of Persian earth, which is entirely different from any known to exist in China. But this merely goes to prove the imitation of Chinese pieces and the importation of Chinese workmen.
Persia up to the end of the time of Shah Abbas, or about A. D. 1628, was the central point of the route between China and the West, thus many Chinese objects made prior to this date are found in Persia. An officer of the British government made a large collection of such Chinese objects, which are. now in the South Kensington Museum. Sir John Malcolm, in his ” History of Persia,” tells us that in 1256 twelve hundred families of Chinese artisans and engineers came to Persia and there plied their trades.
Persia still attempts to make this fine-grained earthenware, but with very little success. On objects of recent date the glaze is more vitrified, the colors less pure and blended in the glaze, and the designs poorly executed. The usual color of these pieces, azure blue on a white ground, is known as blue and white. Another kind was of a more porous, softer, but thicker paste, of coarser workmanship and generally inferior, still occasional pieces of much merit are found executed in various colors, red, lapis lazuli, yellow, blue, etc.
Another variety still thicker and coarser, the paste more or less dark in color, and the glaze thick and very white, resembles to some extent the stanniferous earthenware in-vented by the Arabs early in the XV1th century. Some of these objects are covered with a solid color which, when of lapis lazuli blue, is very brilliant. We also find a white earthenware translucent which has been considered by many to be a porcelain.
Chardin speaks of the porcelain of Karamania as resembling that of China, and Pliny also alludes to a substance found in Karamania of which murrhine vases were made. The chief place of manufacture was Kashan and its neighborhood, including Nain, where good clay is still found. Cobalt, the color chiefly used, is also found at Kashan. Near Meshed a stoneware was made of blueish soapstone, which was cut and hollowed out of one solid piece into teapots, coffeepots, cups, bowls, etc.