[blue and white ceramic tile from dramagirl’s flickr]
For centuries, Persian potters had been using cobalt to paint underglaze blue decorations. In the early fourteenth century, some bright entrepeneur had the idea of taking it to China. The Chinese potters tried out this ‘Muhammadan blue’ on their highly prized white porcelain, and in about 1325 started to export the barbarous results back to the Near East. The shapes were based on those of Islamic metalwork, the blue decorations incorporated jolly chinoiseries. Soon, imitations were being made in Persia, then in Egypt and Syria. Later on, the Ottomans took blue-and-white to heart and put tulips on their pots; the seventeenth-century Dutch then fell in love with it, putting windmills and armorials on their pots, and tulips in them. The bastard transfer-printed descendants of blue-and-white still leave Stoke-on-Trent in their willow-patterned millions.
-Tim Mackintosh-Smith, Travels with a Tangerine