Bowl With Rooster And Fish
© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.72
Title
Bowl with Rooster and Fish
Classification
Vessels
Work Type
vessel
Date
10th century
Places
Creation Place: Middle East, Iraq, Basra
Period
Abbasid period
Location
Level 2, Room 2550, Art from Islamic Lands
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Physical Descriptions
Medium
Buff-colored earthenware painted with luster (silver and copper) over white lead alkali glaze opacified with tin
Technique
Lusterware
Dimensions
5.9 x 23.2 cm (2 5/16 x 9 1/8 in.)
Provenance
[Mansour Gallery, London, 1973], sold; to Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (1973-2002), gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2002.
Aquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
Accession Year
2002
Object Number
2002.50.72
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
Descriptions
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.

Label Text: Closely Focused, Intensely Felt: Selections from the Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, written 2004
Bowl with Cockerel and Fish
Iraq, late 9th century
Earthenware with overglaze luster painting
2002.50.72 [first proof]

Label Text: Re-View: Arts of India & the Islamic Lands, written 2008
5
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 iridescent 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.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, written 2013
6

Bowl with rooster and fish
Iraq, Basra, Abbasid period, 10th century[1]
Buff-colored earthenware painted with luster (silver and copper) over white lead alkali glaze opacified with tin
5.9 × 23.2 cm (2 5/16 × 9 1/8 in.)
2002.50.72

Published: McWilliams 2004, 3, 11, fig 2.

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.[2] 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.

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] In Grube 1994, 38, cat. 25, Peter Morgan, referring to a bowl in the Khalili Collection, London, describes a similar adornment on a bird’s head as “the classical Sasanian imperial ribbon.”

Publication History

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., 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

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

Verification Level

3 - Good. Object is well described and information is vetted