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Pierced Jug with Harpies and Sphinxes

Object Name:
Ewer
Date:
dated A.H. 612/ A.D. 1215–16
Geography:
Iran, Kashan
Culture:
Islamic
Medium:
Stonepaste; openwork, underglaze-painted, glazed in transparent turquoise
Dimensions:
H. 8 3/16 in. (20.8 cm) Diam. 6 5/8 in. (16.8 cm) Wt. 36.2 oz. (1026.4 g)
Classification:
Ceramics
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1932
Accession Number:
32.52.1
Not on view
This jug exemplifies the virtuosity of Seljuq and post-Seljuq potters in Iran. Over a solid inner core, the outer layer of its neck and upper body is carved and pierced, featuring deer, dogs, cheetahs, winged sphinxes, and harpies entwined in foliage. The beneficial symbolism of these animals, all of which sport slight smiles, is at odds with the regretful tone of the Persian and Arabic poetry on the rim and lower body.
By 1215–16, when this jug was made, the technical proficiency of Iranian potters had reached a pinnacle. The jug consists of two layers, the interior vessel and the carved openwork on the neck and globular sides with black and blue underglaze painting under a trans parent turquoise glaze. Along the rim of the mouth and above a band of waterweeds above the foot run two inscriptions. The lower one comprises verses by an anonymous poet together with the date. The upper inscription is a ruba‘i (quatrain) by Rukn al-Din Da‘vidar Qummi.

The love poetry appears to have little direct relation to the imagery on the neck and body. Here spotted dogs, cheetahs, and hares bound through the foliage above and below pairs of winged sphinxes and harpies. Around the rim four deer lope across a ground of foliate scrolls. The sphinxes, dogs, and cheetahs all have slight smiles, which communicate a happier mood than the poetry. Standing confronted, separated by a stylized tree, the sphinxes can be interpreted as guarding the Tree of Life, a role they often fill on objects of this period. Like sphinxes, harpies, here depicted addorsed with heads viewed frontally, were inherited from the classical world, but their meaning in the Seljuq context was associated with the zodiac, particularly the sign of Gemini. Although they came from distant, inaccessible lands, harpies could represent happiness and appeared often in courtly scenes. In the absence of human figures on this jug, the real and imaginary beasts and their luxuriant natural setting suggest a paradisiacal theme only slightly diluted by the longing tone of the poetry.

Sheila R. Canby (author) in [Canby et al. 2016]
Inscription: Inscription around mouth of jug, a Persian ruba‘i (quatrain)
by Rukn al-Din Da‘vidar Qummi:
من بی تو همان سر زده ام فارغ باش
همواره بهم بر زده ام فارغ باش
دست از تو بمهر دیگری از سر تو
بیزار شدم گر زده ام فارغ باش
Without you, I am depraved; Be free from care.
Ceaselessly, I am unsettled; Be free from care.
[Turning] from you, I reach for the kindness of another, because of you.
Although I have done so, I despised it; Be free from care.

(Diwan Rukn al-din Da‘vidar Qummi, ed Ali Mohaddith, Amir Kabir publication, Tehran, 1365/1986 p.)

Inscription around base of jug, a Persian ruba‘i by an as-yet-unidentified poet:
گفتم چو رسد بزلف دانی دستم
دل باز ستانم وز محنت رستم
یک لحظه چو در پیش رخش بنشتم
جان نیز چو دل در سر زلفش بستم
I said, “[Do] you know, if my hand reaches her tresses,
I [could] reclaim my heart and be free from suffering.”
One moment, while sitting face-to-face with her,
I tied my soul, like my heart, to the end of her curls.

Inscription following the above:
في شهور سنة إثني عشر و ستمائة
In the months of the year A.H. 612 [A.D. 1215–16]
V. Everit Macy, New York (by 1923–d. 1930; his estate, 1930–32; sold to MMA)
Dimand, Maurice S. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, May 12 to June 28, 1931." In Loan Exhibition of Ceramic Art of the Near East. New York, 1931. no. 94, pp. 22--23, ill. pl. 94 (b/w).

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 180, ill. fig. 113 (b/w).

Lane, Arthur. "Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia." In Early Islamic Pottery. Faber Monographs on Pottery and Porcelain. London: Faber and Faber, 1947. p. 45, ill. pl. 83B (b/w).

Wilkinson, Charles K. Iranian Ceramics. New York: Asia House Gallery, 1963. no. 52, pp. 7, 129, ill. pl. 52 (b/w).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1970. no. 163, p. 184, ill. (b/w).

Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Pottery: A Brief History." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, vol. 40, no. 4 (Spring 1983). no. 24, pp. 22-23, ill. pl. 24 (color).

Ettinghausen, Richard, and Oleg Grabar. The Art and Architecture of Islam: 650-1250. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1987. p. 347, ill. fig. 371 (b/w).

de Montebello, Philippe, and Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 6th ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. p. 317, ill. fig. 15 (color).

Yarshater, Ehsan, ed. Encyclopaedia Iranica vol. 5 (1992). p. 316, ill. pl. XXII (b/w).

Ettinghausen, Richard, Oleg Grabar, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina. Islamic Art and Architecture 650-1250. 2nd ed. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. p. 177, ill. fig. 277 (color).

Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 73, pp. 115-116, ill. p. 115 (color).

Canby, Sheila R. "The Islamic Galleries at The Met." Arts of Asia, Arts of Asia, vol. 42 (September/October 2012). pp. 85-85, ill. fig. 8 (color).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. p. 130, ill. (color).

Canby, Sheila R., Deniz Beyazit, Martina Rugiadi, and A. C. S. Peacock. "The Great Age of the Seljuqs." In Court and Cosmos. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. no. 143, p. 229, ill. (color).



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