June 1, 2007

New exhibit paints picture of Iran’s past

Daily Life Ornamented—The Medieval Persian City of Rayy, the Oriental Institute’s new exhibit, focuses on the ceramic pottery uncovered in 1930’s excavations in what is now Tehran, Iran. Featuring colorful ceramic shards that collectively illustrate daily life in Rayy over several centuries, the exhibit seeks to highlight how a better understanding of the history of Iran and of Islam can be achieved through a comprehensive view of its culture and society.

Co-curator Tanya Treptow, a graduate student in Near Eastern Art and Archaeology, explained one of the exhibit’s central goals: “We want people to be able to see with the eye of an archaeologist and discover [for] themselves how pottery shards can express Islamic cultural values in cuisine, religion, technology, and decoration,” she said in a University press release.

The ceramics discovered at Rayy span from the 9th to the 14th centuries and cover the Abbasid, Seljuq, and Mongol eras. Archaeologists consider this the time when the ceramics craft in Rayy was influenced by Eastern styles. This influence was born from Rayy’s location at a crossing point of early silk roads in Iran, the emergence of new technology in ceramic making, frequent invasions, and a changing population.

The pieces in this collection have helped archaeologists investigate scholarship, religious orientations, and Asian cultural influences in the city during that time. Watercolors painted during the excavation accompany most of the ceramics, serving to depict what the pieces might have looked like in their entirety and highlighting the degree of expertise involved in crafting them.