Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.83
Title
Bowl Inscribed with a Saying of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib
Classification
Vessels
Work Type
vessel
Date
10th century
Places
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran, Nishapur
Period
Samanid period
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Reddish earthenware covered in white slip and painted with black (manganese and iron) under clear lead glaze
Technique
Underglazed, painted
Dimensions
6.1 x 21.5 cm (2 3/8 x 8 7/16 in.)
Provenance
Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (by 1978-2002), 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
2002.50.83
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
Written around the rim of this bowl in a “new style” Kufic, with ascenders deflected abruptly to the left, is an epigram in Arabic attributed to Ali ibn Abi Talib, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, praising knowledge and manly virtue: “Knowledge is the noblest of personal qualities, and love is the highest of pedigrees”. Pear-shaped ornament rising out of the last letter of the last word marks the end of the inscription. Written across the center is a single Arabic word, ahmad, which appears frequently on Samanid epigraphic bowls. In this context it is usually construed not as the signature of a potter but as a blessing: “most praiseworthy.” Proverbs praising knowledge and exhorting the owner to various forms of virtuous conduct appear frequently on these elegantly inscribed epigraphic wares, suggesting that they were appreciated by a class of users who placed high value on learning and ethical behavior. On the interior and exterior of this well-potted bowl, the entire pinkish-buff ceramic body, including the beveled, slightly concave base, has been covered in white slip and clear glaze. The vessel is fragmentary; the last word of the inscription has been partially reconstructed on a plaster fill.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
10

Bowl inscribed with a saying of ʿAli ibn Abi Talib
Iran, Nishapur, Samanid period, 10th century
Reddish earthenware covered in white slip and painted with black (manganese and iron) under clear lead glaze
6.1 × 21.5 cm (2 3/8 × 8 7/16 in.)
2002.50.83

Written around the rim of this bowl in a “new style” Kufic, with ascenders deflected abruptly to the left, is an epigram in Arabic attributed to ʿAli ibn Abi Talib, the son-in- law of the Prophet Muhammad, praising knowledge and manly virtue: “Knowledge is the noblest of personal qualities, and love is the highest of pedigrees” (al-ʿilm ashraf al-aḥsāb wʾal-mawadda ashbak al-ansāb).[1] A pear-shaped ornament rising out of the last letter of the last word (al-ansāb) marks the end of the inscription. Written across the center is a single Arabic word, aḥmad, which appears frequently on Samanid epigraphic bowls. In this context it is usually construed not as the signature of a potter but as a blessing: “most praiseworthy.” Proverbs praising knowledge and exhorting the owner to various forms of virtuous conduct appear frequently on these elegantly inscribed epigraphic wares, suggesting that they were appreciated by a class of users who placed high value on learning and ethical behavior. On the interior and exterior of this well-potted bowl, the entire pinkish-buff ceramic body, including the beveled, slightly concave base, has been covered in white slip and clear glaze. The vessel is fragmentary; the last word of the inscription has been partially reconstructed on a plaster fill.

Mary McWilliams

[1] Other Samanid epigraphic wares with the same saying are listed in Ghouchani 1986, 9.

Publication History

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), pp. 175-176, cat. 10, ill.

Exhibition History

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

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