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Bowl with Flying Birds and Lotuses

Shared motifs and designs in the art of diverse cultures along the Silk Route provide some of the most visible evidence of cultural transmission between China and the Islamic world. Through trade, tribute, gift exchange, and the spread of religions such as Buddhism, Manichaeism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, imagery associated with one artistic tradition was often adapted or incorporated in another cultural context. Motifs that appear across the arts of China, Central Asia, and the Islamic world include fantastical animals such as dragons and phoenixes; cloud bands and cloud collar motifs; and flowers such as lotuses and peonies. Yet the meanings linked to these motifs often did not transfer from one context to the next. Similar imagery could exist simultaneously in several regions while signifying different things.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Iranian potters developed a stone paste body also known as fritware, intended to imitate the smooth white surface of Chinese porcelain. This fritware bowl depicting birds in flight against a background of large-scale foliage and lotus flowers represents a Mongol Ilkhanid interpretation of the Chinese lotus, a flower unknown in Iran.

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