Bowl With Masked Dancing Figure
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
2002.50.49
Title
Bowl with Masked Dancing Figure
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
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Reddish earthenware covered in whitish slip and painted with red (iron), black (manganese), green (copper), and yellow (stain from fine chromite particles) under clear lead glaze
Technique
Underglazed, painted
Dimensions
8 x 26.8 cm (3 1/8 x 10 9/16 in.)
Provenance
[Hadji Baba Ancient Art, London,1985], sold; to Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (1985-2002), 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
2002.50.49
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
Descriptions
Description
White, curving horns appear to sprout from the red head of the enigmatic figure whose outstretched arms and running legs fill the contours of this bowl. Perhaps a bull’s head is represented, but the blurring of the black pigment in the glaze has obscured the artist’s intentions here and elsewhere. The rendering of the hands is equally ambiguous, possibly meant to suggest the thumb and knuckles of a clenched fist. The hand reaching backward appears to hold a leafy branch. The space around the figure is filled with a miscellany of motifs, including a flower, a palmette, fragmentary letters in Kufic script, and a bird. Groups of four or five short lines divide the rim into five sections, colored either green or yellow.
This bowl closely resembles figural wares with buff-colored bodies reported by Charles Wilkinson to have come from excavations at Nishapur. Here, however, the off-white background is obtained from slip covering a reddish ceramic fabric, and the yellow background results from staining from fine chromite particles, rather than the more customary lead-tin or lead-antimony. The base, which is slightly concave and beveled, is only partially covered by the slip. The bowl, once broken, is in good condition, having been put back together from at least four major fragments. On the interior, overpainting is largely limited to the center: the figure’s collar and shoulders, his groin, and the upper lapels of his torso.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
19

Bowl with masked dancing figure
Iran, Nishapur, Samanid period, 10th century[1]
Reddish earthenware covered in whitish slip and painted with red (iron), black (manganese), green (copper), and yellow (stain from fine chromite particles) under clear lead glaze
8 × 26.8 cm (3 1/8 × 10 9/16 in.)
2002.50.49

White, curving horns appear to sprout from the red head of the enigmatic figure whose outstretched arms and running legs fill the contours of this bowl. Perhaps a bull’s head is represented, but the blurring of the black pigment in the glaze has obscured the artist’s intentions here and elsewhere. The rendering of the hands is equally ambiguous, possibly meant to suggest the thumb and knuckles of a clenched fist. The hand reaching backward appears to hold a leafy branch.[2] The space around the figure is filled with a miscellany of motifs, including a flower, a palmette, fragmentary letters in Kufic script, and a bird. Groups of four or five short lines divide the rim into five sections, colored either green or yellow.

This bowl closely resembles figural wares with buff-colored bodies reported by Charles Wilkinson to have come from excavations at Nishapur.[3] Here, however, the off-white background is obtained from slip covering a reddish ceramic fabric, and the yellow background results from staining from fine chromite particles, rather than the more customary lead-tin or lead-antimony. The base, which is slightly concave and beveled, is only partially covered by the slip. The bowl, once broken, is in good condition, having been put back together from at least four major fragments. On the interior, overpainting is largely limited to the center: the figure’s collar and shoulders, his groin, and the upper lapels of his torso.

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 2004.
[2] See, in this catalogue, Oya Pancaroğlu’s essay, “Feasts of Nishapur: Cultural Resonances of Tenth-Century Ceramic Production in Khurasan,” 25–35.
[3] Wilkinson 1973, 3–53.

Publication History

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), p. 24-26, cat. 19, ill.; p. 182, cat. 19, ill.

Exhibition History

Overlapping Realms: Arts of the Islamic World and India, 900-1900, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 12/02/2006 - 03/23/2008

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