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
2002.50.89
Title
Bowl with Foliated and Plaited Inscription
Classification
Vessels
Work Type
vessel
Date
10th century
Places
Creation Place: Central Asia, Uzbekistan, Samarkand
Period
Samanid period
Culture
Persian
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/165424
Location
Level 2, Room 2550, Art from Islamic Lands, The Middle East and North Africa
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Reddish earthenware covered in white slip and painted with black (manganese and iron) under clear lead glaze
Technique
Underglazed, painted
Dimensions
8.6 x 25.5 cm (3 3/8 x 10 1/16 in.)
Provenance
Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (by 1974-2002), 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
2002.50.89
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
The Harvard Art Museums encourage the use of images found on this website for personal, noncommercial use, including educational and scholarly purposes. To request a higher resolution file of this image, please submit an online request.
Descriptions
Description
Among the more extravagant developments in Samanid epigraphic wares is the elaboration of Arabic script—occasionally, as here, to the point of illegibility. The inscription on this bowl is a compendium of the major decorative devices and themes that embellish these wares, including the dramatic elongation or extension of letters and their ornamentation with plaiting, arcs, loops, knots, foliate terminals, and interlacings that seem to spring from their middles or the ligatures between them.The most exuberant decorative devices occupy the upper zone of the inscription, that is, toward the center of the bowl. Underlying the proliferation of ornament is an essentially rhythmic structure based on repetition of near-identical elements. Occurring three times in the band, and dividing it roughly into thirds, is a complicated and additive form of the letter alif, the tallest element in the inscription. Each alif bears three loops on its staff and at its top deflects rightward in a foliate terminal. Its baseline stretches to the right and has been transformed into a split leaf, from which a tendril curls upward and rightward and terminates in another split leaf. The tendril in turn joins, or nearly joins, a curving and branching foliate outgrowth that reinforces the rhythm established by the alif. Less regularly spaced are three plaited ornaments that spring once from a ligature and twice from a closed rectangular letter. Small rosettes composed of four dots enliven the interstitial space of the inscription band and mark the center of the bowl. This bowl is well and thinly potted of a fine-grained earthenware. The exterior and interior are covered in a creamy white slip under a clear glaze. The flat and very slightly concave base is partially slipped and glazed. Only the interior is decorated; its brownish-black slip stands slightly raised above the surface, and a carving tool has been used to sharpen contours and to articulate the plaiting, twisting, and overlapping of the letters. The bowl has been reassembled from numerous fragments, with one notable loss on the rim.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
11

Bowl with foliated and plaited inscription
Uzbekistan, Samarkand, Samanid period, 10th century[1]
Reddish earthenware covered in white slip and painted with black (manganese and iron) under clear lead glaze
8.6 × 25.5 cm (3 3/8 × 10 1/16 in.)
2002.50.89

Among the more extravagant developments in Samanid epigraphic wares is the elaboration of Arabic script—occasionally, as here, to the point of illegibility. The inscription on this bowl is a compendium of the major decorative devices and themes that embellish these wares, including the dramatic elongation or extension of letters and their ornamentation with plaiting, arcs, loops, knots, foliate terminals, and interlacings that seem to spring from their middles or the ligatures between them.[2] The most exuberant decorative devices occupy the upper zone of the inscription, that is, toward the center of the bowl.

Underlying the proliferation of ornament is an essentially rhythmic structure based on repetition of near-identical elements. Occurring three times in the band, and dividing it roughly into thirds, is a complicated and additive form of the letter alif, the tallest element in the inscription. Each alif bears three loops on its staff and at its top deflects rightward in a foliate terminal. Its baseline stretches to the right and has been transformed into a split leaf, from which a tendril curls upward and rightward and terminates in another split leaf. The tendril in turn joins, or nearly joins, a curving and branching foliate outgrowth that reinforces the rhythm established by the alif. Less regularly spaced are three plaited ornaments that spring once from a ligature and twice from a closed rectangular letter. Small rosettes composed of four dots enliven the interstitial space of the inscription band and mark the center of the bowl.

This bowl is well and thinly potted of a fine-grained earthenware. The exterior and interior are covered in a creamy white slip under a clear glaze. The flat and very slightly concave base is partially slipped and glazed. Only the interior is decorated; its brownish-black slip stands slightly raised above the surface, and a carving tool has been used to sharpen contours and to articulate the plaiting, twisting, and overlapping of the letters. The bowl has been reassembled from numerous fragments, with one notable loss on the rim.

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] The terminology here follows that used in Volov 1966.

Publication History

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), p. 176, cat. 11, ill.

Exhibition History

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

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