Given the elaborate nature of the decoration on
many of the Islamic bowls, dishes, ewers and
other forms of utilitarian pottery it made sense for
artisans to create moulds from which many
copies could be easily and efficiently made for
In fact there were even master moulds made from
which “negatives” (a series of moulds for
dissemination among commercial potters) were
produced. The master mould would show all the
decoration as it would appear on the final item.
The “Negative would show the decoration in
mirror image and reversed so that relief
decoration would show as incised and decoration
that would show as incised on the final object
would show in relief on the negative mould.
In categorizing moulds we might say that there
were moulds made to shape each of the top and
the bottom of vessels as well as the inside and
the outside of vessels.
The master mould would be formed in clay and
hard fired in the shape of and with the design
looking like the final item would. It would then be
used to generate the negative moulds. Soft clay
would be pressed around the master and then
separated by splitting the negative mould either
horizontally or vertically. These negatives would
in turn be used to create impressions in two or
more parts that would be attached together, often
creating visible seams on the final item.
The making and supplying of moulds became a
distinct trade, with skilled designers able to
supply numerous workshops, enabling them to
make wares of a quality they would not manage
on their own.
Ceramic moulds have to be made of an
absorbent material that dries the surface of the
clay pushed into it, causing it to shrink slightly
and detach from the mould walls. The moulded
piece can then be removed from the mould
without sticking or spoiling. The mould would
then have to be dried before being used again.
This would be a relatively slow process even in a
This master would have been used to create
molds of the top half of a bulbous vessel such as
a bottle or ewer. The top of the soft clay
impression would have been cut away and have a
neck or spout attached to it. The bottom would
have been pared and have a complementary
bowl-like piece attached to it.
This master mould would have been used to
create the upper half of the outside of a vessel
such as a bulbous jug, pitcher or bottle. The top
of the soft clay impression would have been cut
away and a neck or spout would then have been
attached to it. The sharpness of the finely incised
abstract geometric patterns around the entire
body of this mould makes this a simply
enchanting, elegant and lively example.