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Simon Ray: Indian & Islamic Works of Art

ATTENDANT STOKING A FIRE
Iran (Safavid), 17th century
Height: 23.8 cm
Width: 24.8 cm

A tile in the cuerda seca technique with a charming design of an attendant stroking a fire. In the top left corner of the tile, part of a large blue cauldron resting on rocks can be seen simmering over leaping yellow flames. A large blue rock with a craggy surface, and a stylised black and white rock in the chinoiserie style, form part of the cluster against which the round-bottomed cauldron is wedged for support. Flames leap from below the cauldron and blaze to the sides above the rocks. Completing the setting is a small cluster of multi-coloured rocks to the bottom right, and a chinoiserie mound with yellow and blue leaves floating against the vivid green ground. It is evident that a feast is being prepared in the open air.

The attendant is dressed in a white robe tied with a blue and yellow sash over a blue undergarment of which the sleeves can be seen. The purity of the white robe with its subtle folds contrasts strikingly with the green ground. The attendant wears a multi-coloured conical hat decorated with stripes and a pom-pom to the top. In the right hand he holds a long yellow stick for poking the embers and in the left he fans the flames with a small branch of twigs. His handsome features are beautifully painted, with curling locks, delicate mouth and dimple on the chin.

Above the attendant can be seen the flaring base of another cooking vessel. Though these large pots are rendered in the rich cobalt blue characteristic of the vivid colours seen on Safavid cuerda seca tiles, they are probably huge copper vessels.

A tile with a very similar design depicting an attendant stoking a fire, but with the attendant facing right and with variations in the colours of the attendant’s costume and a black and white cauldron, must have mirrored the present tile in a large panel depicting court chefs at work. This is published in the Spink catalogue The Eye of the Courtier, 1999, p. 24, cat. no. 24. Also published in this catalogue, p. 25, cat. no. 15, is another tile from the same group depicted cauldrons and large serving tureens. Emerging from the wide mouth of one of these footed ceramic tureens is a ladle. The cauldron in this tile has a cover to keep the temperature high and the cauldron in the present tile must have a similar cover.

A third tile from this group in the Spink catalogue Passion & Tranquillity, 1998, p. 18, cat. no. 9, extends our picture of Safavid cookery and service. Like all the other tiles in this group, the backdrop is apple green, conveying a vivid impression of cooking in the open air. Here, the two large cooking cauldrons both have domed lids and handles resembling crescent moons. An attendant’s hand can be seen elegantly ladling food into a yellow bowl with a blue rim and splayed. While the cooking vessels are vast, the dish in which the food is served is in marked contrast small, delicate and exquisitely proportioned. The food no doubt would be delicious and as refined as the serving dish, tasting of pistachios, pomegranates, fenugreek, quince, saffron, rosewater and other celebrated Persian ingredients.

all text & images Simon Ray: Indian & Islamic Works of Art

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