Imitation and inspiration: the ceramic trade from China to Basra and back

Until recently, Basra was not considered as a producer of some of the finest Chinese-inspired porcelain. However recent studies suggest that Basra was in fact a centre of some of the finest luxury wares of the time. Being the port where, in the 9th century, imported Tang stoneware and porcelain were first off-loaded from ships, meant that local potters were exposed to new inspiration, which led to experimentation in their own production techniques. However, imitating Chinese porcelain techniques was no easy feat, especially since the base colour of the raw clay in Basra was yellow and not pure white. However, by applying an opaque white base glaze, the potters could recreate a “blank canvas” on which to experiment spectacularly using blue and white patterns. As a result, it took the Chinese until the 15th century to overcome their own technical problems to re-imitate the Middle Eastern porcelain makers, going on to produce some of the finest Chinese Blue and White porcelain.

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