The Tree Ataifor
October’s Museum Piece of the Month is the Tree Ataifor (dish with curved sides). Every Saturday in October, from noon onwards, art historian Gaspar Aranda will analyse the peculiarities of this interesting piece of domestic pottery in Room VI of the Museum of the Alhambra, as part of a free programme offered by Patronato de la Alhambra y Generalife.
The piece is unique among the blue and gold Nasrid ceramics preserved in the museum, on account of its exceptional size, its shape and its decorative pattern. It is the largest open receptacle known in Nasrid pottery. 82 cm in diameter and 35 cm high, the Tree Ataifor was made by a potter skilled enough to model extremely high and wide walls, supported by a base rather too small for the size of the piece, making it somewhat unstable.
The size of the piece is particularly unusual for an ataifor, which are deep and open with curved walls, compared to the conical shape of the more frequent safas. Additionally, judging from the groove running around the lip of the bowl, it would have been covered by a large lid, which may or may not have been ceramic.
In addition to the outside decorated in gold in the shape of palmettes, the inner surface is totally covered with a naturalistic depiction of a large tree, in blue, with long spiralling boughs branching out, asymmetrically but harmoniously, from both sides of the trunk, bearing 3- and 5-lobed leaves. This decorative theme allows us to date the dish towards the year 1366, due to its similarity with other naturalistic trees in coloured plasterwork adorning the spandrels of the arch leading into the Patronato de la Alhambra y Generalife, commissioned in that year by Muhammad V.
Although the piece had not survived the passage of the years well, and by the mid-20th century was in fragments, it was studied in detail and the ataifor shape was painstakingly reconstructed; in 1979-1980 by Natividad Gómez-Moreno Bolívar completed the restoration of the decorative paintwork.
When: Saturdays (October), noon
Where: Room VI, Museum of the Alhambra, Palace of Carlos V