Bowl Inscribed With Sayings Of The Prophet Muhammad And 'ali Ibn Abi Talib
interior © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.88
Title
Bowl Inscribed with Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and 'Ali ibn Abi Talib
Classification
Vessels
Work Type
vessel
Date
10th century
Places
Creation Place: Central Asia, Uzbekistan, Samarkand
Period
Samanid period
Culture
Persian
Location
Level 2, Room 2550, Art from Islamic Lands
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Physical Descriptions
Medium
Reddish earthenware covered in white slip and painted with black (manganese and iron) and red (iron) under clear lead glaze
Technique
Underglazed, painted
Dimensions
9.6 x 26.9 cm (3 3/4 x 10 9/16 in.)
Provenance
[Mansour Gallery, London, before 1973], sold; to Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (by 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
2002.50.88
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
Descriptions
Description
With its pure white slip, precise calligraphy, and perfectly clear glaze, this deep-walled bowl embodies the finest qualities of Samanid epigraphic wares. Most surviving examples of this class of ceramics reproduce benedictory phrases or popular proverbs. More rarely, as here they record sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions. Beginning in his own lifetime, Muhammad’s example was considered an important guide for how people should conduct their lives. In the early centuries of the Islamic era, sayings attributed to and anecdotes about him were collected and analyzed by numerous authors. The large andcomplex body of literature that resulted from this immense effort is known as hadith. The outer inscription on this bowl is written in black slip and records a saying attributed to the Prophet: “Modesty is a branch of faith, and faith is in paradise”. The inner inscription, in red slip, contains a similar dictum credited to 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s son-in-law and the fourth orthodox Caliph of Islam: “Greed is a sign of poverty”. Because each inscription is written in a ring, the calligrapher inserted a single-word invocation to mark the beginning: in the outer circle, “felicity”, and in the inner one, “health”. This bowl has been reassembled from about fifteen fragments, with only minimal losses. The white slip and clear glaze completely cover the vessel, including its flat, slightly concave base.
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:

Large Bowl with Hadith Inscriptions in Black and Red
Iran or Uzbekistan, Nishapur or Samarkand, Samanid dynasty, 10th century
Earthenware with slip-painting under glaze
Inscribed (Arabic) in black slip Modesty is a branch of faith, and faith is in paradise; in redslip Greed is a sign of poverty. Peace.
Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, 2002.50.88

In the reign of the Samanids (819–999), potters obtained a white ground by covering earthenware vessels with white slip (colored clay particles in solution). They then painted designs with different-colored slips and fired the whole under a transparent lead glaze. Among their finest works are the so-called epigraphic wares, which usually reproduce in angular Arabic script a range of benedictory phrases and popular proverbs. More rarely, as here, the vessels record examples of Hadith, that is, sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. Beginning in his own lifetime, Muhammad’s conduct was considered an important guide. This bowl bears two Hadith inscriptions: in black slip, a saying attributed to Muhammad; in red slip, an epigram attributed to `Ali ibn Abi Talib, son-in-law of the Prophet and Islam’s fourth orthodox caliph.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
13

Bowl inscribed with sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and ʿAli ibn Abi Talib
Uzbekistan, Samarkand, Samanid period, 10th century[1]
Reddish earthenware covered in white slip and painted with black (manganese and iron) and red (iron) under clear lead glaze
9.6 × 26.9 cm (3 3/4 × 10 9/16 in.)
2002.50.88

Published: McWilliams 2002a, 12, fig. 1; McWilliams 2002b, 44, fig. 1; AKPIA 2004, 7; McWilliams 2004, 4, 11, fig. 4; HALI 2004, 115; McWilliams 2007, 16, fig. 3; Harvard Art Museum and Wolohojian 2008, 39.

With its pure white slip, precise calligraphy, and perfectly clear glaze, this deep-walled bowl embodies the finest qualities of Samanid epigraphic wares. Most surviving examples of this class of ceramics reproduce benedictory phrases or popular proverbs. More rarely, as here and on one other bowl in the collection (cat. 10) they record sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions. Beginning in his own lifetime, Muhammad’s example was considered an important guide for how people should conduct their lives. In the early centuries of the Islamic era, sayings attributed to and anecdotes about him were collected and analyzed by numerous authors. The large and complex body of literature that resulted from this immense effort is known as hadith.

The outer inscription on this bowl is written in black slip and records a saying attributed to the Prophet: “Modesty is a branch of faith, and faith is in paradise” (al-ḥayā shuʿba min al-īmān waʾl-īmān fiʾl-janna). The inner inscription, in red slip, contains a similar dictum credited to ʿAli ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s son-in- law and the fourth orthodox caliph of Islam: “Greed is a sign of poverty” (al- ḥirṣʿalāniya al-faqr).[2] Because each inscription is written in a ring, the calligrapher inserted a single-word invocation to mark the beginning: in the outer circle, “felicity” (al-yumn), and in the inner one, “health” (al-salāma).

This bowl has been reassembled from about fifteen fragments, with only minimal losses. The white slip and clear glaze completely cover the vessel, including its flat, slightly concave base.

Mary McWilliams

[1] The bowl was last fired between 800 and 1400 years ago, according to the results of thermoluminescence analysis carried out by Oxford Authentication Ltd. in 2011.
[2] The same proverb occurs in red slip on a closely related bowl offered at auction: see Sotheby’s 2006b, 94, lot 92. See also the listing of vessels with these inscriptions in Ghouchani 1986, 8.

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, Baraka: Blessings in Clay, The Studio Potter, Mary Barringer (Shelburne Falls, MA, 2007), Vol. 35, No. 2, p 14-19, p. 16, fig. 3

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum Handbook, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 2008), p. 39

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), p. 178, cat. 13, ill.

Mary McWilliams, "Islamic Ceramic Traditions", The Studio Potter, ed. Gerry Williams (New Hampshire, December 2002), vol. 31, no.1, pp44, fig.1

Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, brochure, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, March 2004), p 7

Exhibitions in Brief, HALI, Hali Publications Ltd. (London, England, March 2004), vol. 133, p 115

Mary McWilliams, "With Quite Different Eyes: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art", Apollo, ed. David Ekserdjian (November 2002), vol. CLVI no. 490, pp. 12-16, p.12, fig. 1

Exhibition History

The Continuous Stroke of a Breath: Calligraphy from the Islamic World, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 12/20/2003 - 07/18/2004

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

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