interior
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
2002.50.68
Title
Bowl with a Cheetah Standing on the Back of a Horse
Classification
Vessels
Work Type
vessel
Date
10th century
Places
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran, Nishapur
Period
Samanid period
Culture
Persian
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/165419
Location
Level 2, Room 2550, Art from Islamic Lands, The Middle East and North Africa
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Physical Descriptions
Medium
Buff-colored earthenware painted with black (manganese and iron), yellow (lead-tin), and green (copper) under clear lead glaze
Technique
Underglazed, painted
Dimensions
7.4 x 18.6 cm (2 15/16 x 7 5/16 in.)
Provenance
[Hadji Baba Rabbi House of Antiquities, Teheran, 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
2002.50.68
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
Figural designs on polychrome ceramics offer tantalizing and often puzzling glimpses into the complex society of the Samanid realm, now divided between northeastern Iran and Uzbekistan.The majority of these wares are made of buff-colored earthenware decorated with lively, and often freely rendered, figural images painted in bright colors under clear glaze. The decoration of this small bowl has been executed with exceptional detail and care. Fluid and confident strokes of black slip delineate a crested bird, a spotted feline, and a well-groomed horse. These forms are filled or dotted with green and yellow. The feline and the horse raise their right forelegs; they both sport ankle bands and scalloped collars. The horse has a cropped mane, a knotted tail, and curling fetlocks. Filling its body is a bold pseudo-inscription in floriated and spiraling Kufic script. The top of its eye is defined by two extended parallel lines; this distinctive treatment is occasionally found in figural wares excavated in Nishapur. The feline may be identified as a cheetah by the black stripe descending from its eye.
The vignette of a collared feline on the back of an imposing horse may be a shorthand reference to the costly, prestigious, and ancient sport of hunting with cheetahs. Capable of short bursts of extraordinary speed, cheetahs were usually set on gazelles, rabbits, and other fleet game, but because stamina was not one of their virtues, they had to be conveyed to the hunt. One of the cheetah trainer’s more demanding tasks was to teach his charge to ride pillion on the back of a horse moving at any speed.
The exterior decoration of this bowl consists of pendant leaf shapes painted in an alternating pattern: a buff leaf with an interior dot-dash-dot device alternates with a colored leaf, sequentially yellow or green. No slip is detectable over the light buff ceramic body. The entire bowl, including the flat, slightly concave base, is covered in a clear glaze. The bowl has been reassembled from at least three large fragments and has minor losses and repairs along the rim.
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 Horse and Cheetah
Iran, Nishapur, Samanid dynasty, 10th century
Earthenware with black, green, and yellow under glaze
Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, 2002.50.68

In the so-called buff wares made by Samanid-period potters, the buff background of the design is some¬times a colored slip and sometimes, as here, simply the color of the earthenware body itself. The boldly painted design on the interior of this small bowl fea¬tures a collared feline on the back of a wide-eyed horse. The vignette should probably be understood as a shorthand reference to the prestigious and ancient sport of hunting with trained cheetahs. Relying on short bursts of extraordinary speed to seize the prey quickly, cheetahs were usually set on gazelles, rab¬bits, and other fleet game. Because they were low in stamina, cheetahs had to be conveyed to the hunt. One of the trainer’s more demanding tasks was to teach his charge to ride pillion on the back of a horse.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
16

Bowl with a cheetah standing on the back of a horse
Iran, Nishapur, Samanid period, 10th century[1]
Buff-colored earthenware painted with black (manganese and iron), yellow (lead-tin), and green (copper) under clear lead glaze
7.4 × 18.6 cm (2 15/16 × 7 5/16 in.)
2002.50.68

Published: Reed 2005, 1.

Figural designs on polychrome ceramics offer tantalizing and often puzzling glimpses into the complex society of the Samanid realm, now divided between northeastern Iran and Uzbekistan.[2] The majority of these wares are made of buff-colored earthenware decorated with lively, and often freely rendered, figural images painted in bright colors under clear glaze. The decoration of this small bowl has been executed with exceptional detail and care. Fluid and confident strokes of black slip delineate a crested bird, a spotted feline, and a well-groomed horse. These forms are filled or dotted with green and yellow. The feline and the horse raise their right forelegs; they both sport ankle bands and scalloped collars. The horse has a cropped mane, a knotted tail, and curling fetlocks. Filling its body is a bold pseudo-inscription in floriated and spiraling Kufic script. The top of its eye is defined by two extended parallel lines; this distinctive treatment is occasionally found in figural wares excavated in Nishapur.[3] The feline may be identified as a cheetah by the black stripe descending from its eye.

The vignette of a collared feline on the back of an imposing horse may be a shorthand reference to the costly, prestigious, and ancient sport of hunting with cheetahs.[4] Capable of short bursts of extraordinary speed, cheetahs were usually set on gazelles, rabbits, and other fleet game, but because stamina was not one of their virtues, they had to be conveyed to the hunt. One of the cheetah trainer’s more demanding tasks was to teach his charge to ride pillion on the back of a horse moving at any speed.

The exterior decoration of this bowl consists of pendant leaf shapes painted in an alternating pattern: a buff leaf with an interior dot-dash- dot device alternates with a colored leaf, sequentially yellow or green. No slip is detectable over the light buff ceramic body. The entire bowl, including the flat, slightly concave base, is covered in a clear glaze. The bowl has been reassembled from at least three large fragments and has minor losses and repairs along the rim.

Mary McWilliams

[1] The bowl was last fired between 800 and 1300 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] See the discussion of this eye profile in Wilkinson 1973, 20–21, 45, cat. 62.
[4] For other interpretations, see Wilkinson 1973, 20–22.

Publication History

Christopher Reed, "Art of the Hunt", Harvard Magazine, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, May-June 2005), vol. 107/no. 5, p. 1

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), pp. 30-31, cat. 16, ill.; p. 180, cat. 16, ill.

Exhibition History

The Sport of Kings: Art of the Hunt in Iran and India, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/22/2005 - 06/26/2005

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

32Q: 2550 Islamic, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

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