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Making Peace

Peace on a Plate
Persia (Iran)<br /> <em>Plate</em>, early 18th century<br /> White earthenware with underglaze blue and black décor<br /> Minneapolis Institute of Arts<br /> The Katherine Kittredge McMillan Memorial Fund
  Persia (Iran)
Plate, early 18th century
White earthenware with underglaze blue and black décor
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Katherine Kittredge McMillan Memorial Fund


Have you ever spent time in a garden so peaceful, you felt you were in paradise? This is the kind of garden envisioned by the artist who painted this plate.

Plates like this were used a long time ago in Persia (now Iran). During a Muslim celebration called Yalda, held on the longest night of the year, family and community members gathered to eat specially prepared foods served on beautiful plates like this. Just like today, they shared stories of their common history and strengthened their relationships with one another.

What about this plate looks special to you? Observe its elaborate blue decoration. Notice how the rim is not smooth but has a leaf-like design. Other details are also significant. The widest band around the center contains a floral, vine-like motif. In the center is a spotted deer with antlers, a symbol of long life, lying in a peaceful garden of enormous flowers and leaves. These designs are a mixture of Islamic and Chinese symbols. In Islamic design, gardens are associated with paradise, a word from Old East Iranian, which means a place of peace, prosperity, and happiness. An Islamic garden, a place of reflection and renewal, is often contained within a wall, as the central image on this plate is contained within a band of decoration.

But how did a Persian plate end up with Chinese designs? Peaceful trading partnerships were conducted along a much-used route called the Silk Road. Chinese potters were aware of and admired the deep-blue ceramic glazes used by the Persians. China imported cobalt ore to create its own blue-and-white porcelain wares during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). The Persians greatly admired these dishes, importing large quantities of them. Persian artisans repeated some of the designs they saw, as shown in this plate, but were unable to duplicate the delicate porcelain clay body. Chinese artisans taught them some, but not all, of their secrets. Still, this represented a true artistic exchange, which was only possible between people who were living at peace with one another.

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1. Hubert Robert depicts a fanciful French estate garden designed with elements of English landscapes and Chinese gardens to create an environment filled with peace and wonder. To create this garden paradise, a decade-long undertaking, marshes were drained, a mountain was moved, and a river was rerouted into a sinuous, winding course. Hubert Robert, The Rustic Bridge, Château de Méréville, France, c. 1785, oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund
2. Medieval gardens were spiritual places that represented paradise on earth. Millefleurs (thousand-flower) tapestries depicting gardens filled with symbolic plants and animals became popular in the late Middle Ages. Belgium, Allegorical “Millefleurs” tapestry with animals, c. 1530 –45, wool and silk, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Mrs. C. J. Martin in memory of Charles Jairus Martin
3. This Imperial dish exemplifies the Chinese court's appreciation for blue-and-white porcelain during the early Ming dynasty. China, Imperial deep dish, 1403 –25, porcelain with cobalt blue decoration under a clear glaze, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Ruth and Bruce Dayton


November 2011