Bowl With Inscription And Birds
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Gallery Text

Following the Prophet Muhammad’s example, the Islamic polity, or caliphate, was ruled by a political and religious leader titled the caliph, or “successor” to the Prophet. Muslims eventually developed a monarchic system for controlling the succession of caliphs. The four centuries of the early Islamic era witnessed the establishment—and unraveling—of the universal caliphates of the Umayyad (661–750) and Abbasid (750–1258) dynasties.

The range of the objects in this case illustrates the Islamic empire’s rapid expansion and the assimilation of peoples and artistic practices. A hot-worked glass vessel and a green-glazed pottery cup demonstrate continuity with late Roman traditions, while the figural imagery and inscriptions on tenth-century polychrome pottery vessels from eastern Iran underscore the continued vitality of pre-Islamic cultural traditions there. The creation of coinage bearing only inscriptions at the turn of the seventh century signals the unprecedented stature that Arabic

Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.92
Title
Bowl with Inscription and Birds
Classification
Vessels
Work Type
vessel
Date
10th century
Places
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran, Nishapur
Period
Samanid period
Culture
Persian
Location
Level 2, Room 2550, Art from Islamic Lands, The Middle East and North Africa
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Physical Descriptions
Medium
Reddish earthenware covered in white slip and painted with black (manganese and iron), red (iron), and yellow-staining black (chromium) under clear lead glaze
Technique
Underglazed, painted
Dimensions
5.8 x 18.8 cm (2 5/16 x 7 3/8 in.)
Provenance
[Hadji Baba Rabbi House of Antiquites, Teheran, 1973], sold; to Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (1973-2002), gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2002.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
Accession Year
2002
Object Number
2002.50.92
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
Descriptions
Description
Although painted with apparent dash, the colorful decoration of this bowl is carefully composed. The design is laid out in three registers: an Arabic word meaning “harmony” occupies the middle, and above and below it are long-necked birds with outstretched wings. Like the beginning and end letters of the inscription, the birds’ heads and leaf-like wingtips terminate at the red circular boundary. Freely painted running crescents and a black line enclose the lively composition. Combining Arabic script with birds became popular among potters in the early Islamic era. On this bowl, where inscription and birds are equally stylized and animated, the decorative formula has proved especially felicitous. Most of the black decoration on the bowl is painted in a relatively inert black slip. By contrast, the contour panels are dotted with a black pigment containing chromite, which stains the surrounding glaze light yellow. To date, ceramic vessels with yellow-staining black have been excavated only in Nishapur. The outside of the bowl is undecorated except for the white slip and clear glaze, which has a slight iridescence. The flat base is lightly covered in the slip and partially glazed.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
15

Bowl with inscription and birds
Iran, Nishapur, Samanid period, 10th century[1]
Reddish earthenware covered in white slip and painted with black (manganese and iron), red (iron), and yellow-staining black
(chromium) under clear lead glaze
5.8 × 18.8 cm (2 5/16 × 7 3/8 in.)
2002.50.92

Published: McWilliams 2003, fig. 2; McWilliams 2004, 11; McWilliams 2007, 15, fig. 2.


Although painted with apparent dash, the colorful decoration of this bowl is carefully composed. The design is laid out in three registers: an Arabic word meaning “harmony” (al-wifāq) occupies the middle, and above and below it are long-necked birds with outstretched wings. Like the beginning and end letters of the inscription, the birds’ heads and leaf-like wingtips terminate at the red circular boundary. Freely painted running crescents and a black line enclose the lively composition. Combining Arabic script with birds became popular among potters in the early Islamic era. On this bowl, where inscription and birds are equally stylized and animated, the decorative formula has proved especially felicitous.

Most of the black decoration on the bowl is painted in a relatively inert black slip. By contrast, the contour panels are dotted with a black pigment containing chromite, which stains the surrounding glaze light yellow. To date, ceramic vessels with yellow-staining black have been excavated only in Nishapur.[2] The outside of the bowl is undecorated except for the white slip and clear glaze, which has a slight iridescence. The flat base is lightly covered in the slip and partially glazed.

Mary McWilliams

[1] The bowl was last fired between 700 and 1200 years ago, according to the results of thermoluminescence analysis carried out by Oxford Authentication Ltd. in 2011.
[2] Charles Wilkinson was the first scholar to recognize such wares as a separate group. See Fehérvári 2000, 61; Watson 2004, 48, 237–38.

Publication History

Mary McWilliams, Baraka: Blessings in Clay, The Studio Potter, Mary Barringer (Shelburne Falls, MA, 2007), Vol. 35, No. 2, p 14-19, p. 15, fig. 2

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), pp. 16-17, cat. 15, ill.; pp. 179-180, cat. 15, ill.

Exhibition History

Closely Focused, Intensely Felt: Selections from the Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/07/2004 - 01/02/2005

In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2013 - 06/01/2013

32Q: 2550 Islamic, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu