Art

Bowl with Rooster and Fish

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Bowl with Rooster and Fish
Vessel
10th century
Abbasid period
Creation Place: Basra, Iraq
Buff-colored earthenware painted with luster (silver and copper) over white lead alkali glaze opacified with tin
5.9 x 23.2 cm (2 5/16 x 9 1/8 in.)
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
, 2002.50.72
Department of Islamic & Later Indian Art
,
Description
Repaired from about twenty fragments, but with only small losses, this bowl is decorated with two startled-looking animals— a rooster, and, in its beak, a fish. Their wide-eyed energy is sustained by other sharply angled elements of the design: fins and tail feathers, coxcomb, and fluttering scarf. These creatures have long carried positive associations: the rooster, as the harbinger of dawn, symbolizes hope, while the fish suggests bounty. In religious contexts, the rooster also developed more specifically auspicious connotations: according to a popular epigram attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, he crows when he sees an angel; in Christian tradition, his invigorating sound recalls the faltering to their faith. The glazed base of this bowl bears an undecipherable inscription in Kufic script.
Commentary
Label text from exhibition “Re-View,” an overview of objects drawn from the collections of Harvard Art Museums, 26 April 2008 – 1 July 2013; label text written by Mary McWilliams, Norma Jean Calderwood Curator of Islamic and Later Indian Art, Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art:

Bowl with Rooster Holding a Fish
Iraq, Basra, `Abbasid dynasty, late 9th–early 10th century
Earthenware with luster painted over glaze
Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, 2002.50.72

One of the most significant innovations attributed to ninth-century potters working in Basra was the application of luster painting to ceramics. In this failure-prone technique, the artist painted a mixture of metal oxides onto an already fired and glazed surface. The vessel was then fired a second time in a kiln with a low-oxygen atmosphere. If all went right, the design was deposited on the glaze as an irides¬cent stain, imperceptible to the touch. Probably the costliest product of the Basra kilns, lusterware was widely exported and imitated. Knowledge of the luster technique gradually spread both eastward into Iran and westward as far as Spain.
Provenance
[Mansour Gallery, London, 1973], sold; to Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (1973-2002), gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2002.
Bibliography
Mary McWilliams, Closely Focused, Intensely Felt: Selections from the Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, brochure, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2004)

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., ed. Mary McWilliams Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), p. 173, cat. 6, 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
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
Re-View: Arts of India & the Islamic Lands, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/26/2008 - 06/01/2013
In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2013 - 06/01/2013