TWO SAFAVID CUERDA-SECA TILES
These underglaze polychrome fritware tiles depict a rare fish and bird compositions. On a golden yellow background, three birds are standing among a group of fish, all painted in cobalt blue, light blue, green and yellow, and outlined in black. The style of the three birds depicted here is consistent with birds appeared on other 17th century Safavid tiles, characterised by their multi-coloured wings. Fish is a rare subject matter to appear on Safavid tiles – in this composition; many fish are decorated with circular motifs, probably an attempt by the artist to imitate fish scale. All coloured elements are separated from each other by black outlines using cuerda-seca technique.
The cuerda-seca (dry cord in Spanish) technique was widely used for ceramics produced in the Islamicate world from the 10th century onwards. The black outlines, painted using a greasy substance and dark pigments, prevents different glaze colours applied on the same tile from running into each other.
In the Safavid period, members of the upper echelon of the society decorated their houses, especially gardens, with ceramic friezes depicting various leisure and hunting scenes. This practice was recorded in contemporary travelogues, where western travellers noted such decorative schemes in private gardens along the chahar-bagh avenue in Isfahan.
For examples of birds painted in a similar fashion, see tiles from the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto (976.298.60, 976.298.10). For tiles in similar colour scheme, see a tile panel at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (EA1979.16).