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This unique water basin, shaped like a citadel, was made by Moroccan potters, probably as a diplomatic gift, in the 19th century.

Moroccan water basin fact file

Date

19th century

Made in

Fes, Tangier, Morocco

Made from

Clay, pigment, glaze

Made for

Sir John Hay Drummond Hay (1816-1893), British Minister Plenipotentiary in Morocco from 1845 to1886

Dimensions

Height 365mm, diameter 365mm

Acquired

Bequeathed to the National Collection in 1927 by Sir John Hay Drummond Hay's son, Sir Robert Hay Drummond Hay

Museum reference

A.1927.547

On display

Art of Ceramics, Level 3, National Museum of Scotland

Did you know?

The basin was brought to Scotland by Sir John when he retired to Wedderburn Castle in Duns, in the Scottish Borders.

19th century Moroccan basin

This large-footed basin is truly a unique piece. Made as a single unit by potters from Fes, in north-eastern Morocco, on the outside it is lavishly painted with carnations and leafy scroll motifs in the rich red and blue colours for which pottery from Fes is well-known. But it's the unusual decoration on the rim that really catches the eye.

Moroccan basin from above showing the crenellation design around the rim.

Representing a battlement with a protective walkway behind, the crenel-like edge features modelled cannons and mortars amongst cones, cups and plate-like ornaments. A pipe projects from one of the cups into the basin.

Who was the basin made for?

This elaborate piece was probably commissioned for Sir John Hay Drummond Hay (1816-1893), who was British Minister Plenipotentiary (the UK Government's foremost representative) in Morocco from 1845 to1886.

Drummond Hay was an avid collector of Moroccan pottery and this basin would have been a gift befitting his status and interest.

When visiting the old British Legation in Tangier in 1862, the Danish poet, Hans Christian Anderson, noted:

Sir John Hay Drummond Hay. Image Wikimedia Commons.

Above: Sir John Hay Drummond Hay. Image Wikimedia Commons.

The stairs and corridors were adorned with skins of wild animals, collections of Moorish pottery, spears, sabres, and other weapons… presents which Sir John had received on his visits to the Emperor of Morocco.
- Hans Christian Anderson

How did the basin come into the museum collection?

When Drummond Hay retired to Scotland, he brought the pottery home with him. The basin was bequeathed to the National Collection by his son, Sir Robert Hay Drummond Hay, together with more than 90 pieces of Moroccan pottery, including those pictured below.

  • Two-handled milk pot (hallab), made by Imazighen women for domestic use, c1850-1886. One of eight high-quality slip-glazed earthenware vessels in Drummond Hay’s collection from the Rif Mountains.

    Two-handled milk pot (hallab), made by Imazighen women for domestic use, c1850-1886. One of eight high-quality slip-glazed earthenware vessels in Drummond Hay’s collection from the Rif Mountains.

  • Jar (khabiya) for storing olives, painted in polychrome colours on an opaque white glaze, probably Fez, c1850-1886.

    Jar (khabiya) for storing olives, painted in polychrome colours on an opaque white glaze, probably Fez, c1850-1886.

  • Blue and white dish (qasriyyah) with floral pattern in geometric shapes, Fez, c1850-1886.

    Blue and white dish (qasriyyah) with floral pattern in geometric shapes, Fez, c1850-1886.

  • Lidded bowl (jabbanah) used for harira, a soup mostly served during Ramadhan. Fez, c1850-1886. You can see this jabbanah in the Window on the World in the National Museum of Scotland.

    Lidded bowl (jabbanah) used for harira, a soup mostly served during Ramadhan. Fez, c1850-1886. You can see this jabbanah in the Window on the World in the National Museum of Scotland.

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Further reading

Graves, M.S. ‘Visual Culture as Historical Document: Sir John Drummond Hay and the Nineteenth-Century Moroccan Pottery in the National Museum of Scotland’, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, April 2009, 36(1), pp. 93-124.

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