Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Bowl with musicians

Object Name:
mid-13th century
Made in Iran, Kashan
Stonepaste; luster-painted on opaque monochrome glaze
H. 4 3/8 in. (11.1 cm) Diam. 19 5/8 in. (49.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1932
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 453
With the emergence of the so‑called Kashan style, Iranian lusterware truly comes into its own. On this bowl, the richly patterned figures of two musicians at the center blend with their densely ornamented background. Four calligraphic bands, one of interlaced and foliated kufic and three in naskh script, contain benedictory phrases in Arabic, quatrains extracted from the works of four different Persian poets, and a poem attributed to the famous mystical poet 'Abd al- Majd Majdud Sana'i (d. 1130).
Some of the finest Persian lusterware was produced in the city of Kashan during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This charger covered in brownish luster, is a refined example of a type known as Kashan-style lusterware.[3] Inscriptions arranged in four concentric bands cover most of its interior, surrounding a medallion in which two musicians—one playing a lute while the other holds castanets—are seated against a background of vegetal scrolls.
The bowl exemplifies the artist’s attention to surface pattern, leaving only select areas in reserve.[4] Its verses, each including blessings, are largely mystical in nature. The text on the outer rim, in naskhi script, is executed in reserve and consists of blessings and good wishes for the owner. The next zone, also inscribed in naskhi, contains four ruba‘is (quatrains), also followed by blessings and good wishes for the owner. The striking decoration of the bowl’s cavetto consists of a wide band of illegible plaited kufic set against a stippled ground with vegetal scrolls. The innermost inscription band that frames the pair of musicians contains verses by the mystical poet Sana’i (d. ca. 1131) and is also followed by blessings to the owner.[5] The striking decoration of the bowl’s cavetto consists of a wide band of illegible plaited kufic set against a stippled ground with vegetal scrolls. The innermost inscription band that frames the pair of musicians contains verses by the mystical poet Sana’i (d. ca. 1131) and is also followed by blessings to the owner.
In its architectural quality, the "new-style" plaited kufic calligraphy in the cavetto resembles the inscriptions on the facades of Seljuq and Ilkhanid tomb towers, including Pir-i ‘Alamdar in Damghan and the Imamzada Yahya in Varamin. The distinct treatment of the vegetal scrolls against a stippled background is closely related to that seen on luster tiles from the Imamzada Yahya in Varamin, a large group of which is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and bears the dates A.H. 661–63 / 1262–64 A.D. Similar tiles from a mihrab of 1264, signed by the famous Kashan potter ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Tahir, and this tile in the Metropolitan Museum dated A.H. 661 / 1262–63 A.D. (cat. 76) have also been linked to the Imamzada in Varamin.[6]
After the Mongol destruction of Rayy in 1222, that city’s potters ceased to play a significant role in Iranian ceramic production. By contrast, the potters of Kashan, who produced tiles for the buildings and mosques of other cities, including Qum, Varamin, Mashhad, and Baku, expanded their existing production of lusterware and other classes of ceramics.[7] The increasing production of fine pottery during this period has been linked to expanding mercantile activity and the rise of an urban bourgeoisie.[8]
The Museum’s charger has a lyrical quality. Its central image of musicians is an allusion to a princely feast (bazm) at which people gathered, recited love poetry, and were entertained by musicians. The fact that nearly all its inscriptions include blessings and good wishes for an owner suggest that it was intended as a gift for a celebration, such as a wedding or Nauruz (Persian New Year); its texts personalize and enliven the object. The inclusion of the same verses on a range of luster objects indicates that the potters had a repertoire from which they selected verses for specific objects.[9] With its calligraphic ornament, mystical verses, and performing musicians, the charger would have made a sophisticated and desirable gift.
Maryam Ekhtiar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
3. Watson 1985, pp. 90, 93, 104, fig. 65.
4. Ibid., p. 90, and Dimand 1944, p. 199.
5. The poets of three of the four ruba‘is have been identified as Maulana Rumi (1207–1273), Sadr al-Din Khujandi (d. ca. 1200), and Khwarazmshah Abu al-Faraj Runi (d. ca. 1200).
6. Other examples are in the collections of the British Museum, London, and the Musée du Louvre, Paris.
7. Dimand 1944, p. 199. In fact, the same potter who produced the Varamin mihrab was also responsible for the Qum mihrab of 1264, now in the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
8. Ettinghausen 1970, pp. 113, 115.
9. In research conducted at the Metropolitan Museum in 1998, Abdullah Ghouchani found that a number of objects in other collections contained the same verses.
Inscription: Inscriptions divided into four registers, starting on outer rim and moving inward

First register, Arabic in naskhi script:
والعز والاقبال والدولة والسعادة والسلامة والکرامة والغالب والدولة والسلامة
والغالب والدولة والعز والاقبال والدولة والسعادة والکرامة والنعمة والبرکة
والتأ یید والکرامة والسعادة والسلامة والعز
Glory, prosperity, dominion, happiness, well-being, generosity,
victory, dominion, well-being, victory, dominion, glory, prosperity,
dominion, happiness, generosity, prosperity, blessing, support,
generosity, happiness, well-being, and glory

Second register, four ruba‘is (quatrains) in Persian
and two blessings in Arabic, all in naskhi script:
First ruba‘i:
دیدار توأم همیشه در دیده بود آن کن صنما کز تو پسندیده بود
ای جان جهان دلم بدان خرسند است گواهم که او ترا دیده بود
Your beautiful countenance is forever [captured] in my eyes,
O beloved, do what you prefer.
O life of creation, my heart is joyful; I can swear that
[it is] because I caught a glimpse of you.
عز اقبال دولة سلامة بقاء . . . لصاحبه
Glory, prosperity, dominion, well-being and long life . . . to its owner

Second ruba‘i:
گفتم که مگر آن صنم نیک اندیش رحمی آرد . . . با دل ریش
کی دانستم که آن کافر کیش کارد سر مارا بدامن و گردن خویش
I said: “Won’t that virtuous beloved with a broken heart forgive you?”
How did I know that the heretic would hold our knife against your body and neck?

Third ruba‘i, attributed to Sadr al-Din Khujandi:[1]
مقصود بیافت هر آنچ با غم یار بساخت در کام رسید هرچ با کار بساخت
مه نور بدان یافت کز شب نرمید گل بوی بدان گرفت که با خار بساخت
Whoever endures living with the sorrow of the beloved
will find happiness and purpose.
The moon is luminous because it did not escape the night;
the flower is fragrant because it lives with the thorn.

Fourth ruba‘i:
آنی که درین جهان خسته جانی بر لشکرخوبان جهان سلطانی
این آب دو چشم بنده ضایع مگذار آخر بزمینی بر اگر دهقانی
He whose soul is tired in this world, is the king of the virtuous.
Do not waste my tears, for the farmer can rejuvenate the earth with them.
عز اقبال دولة سلامة بقاء عز اقبال دولة سلامة عز اقبال دولة سلامة
Glory, prosperity, dominion, well-being, long life, glory, prosperity, dominion,
well-being; glory, prosperity, dominion and well-being

Third register, Arabic inscription in ornamental kufic on cavetto: [illegible]

Fourth register, Persian verses by the mystical poet Sana’i,[2]
followed by blessings in Arabic:
ای مه نو بروی تو دیده و اندر تو ماه نو بخندیده
تو نیز ز بیم خصم اندر من از دور نگاه کرده دزدیده
بنموده فلک مه نو و خود را در زیر سیاه ابر پوشیده
تو نیز مه چهارده بنمای بردار ز سر خلق شوریده
کی باشد کی که در تو آویزم چون در زر و سیم مرد نادیده
تو روی مرا بناخنان خسته من دو لب تو ببوسه خا ییده
The full moon looked at you and smiled
And you fearing hostility in me, glanced at me secretly from a distance.
The sky has hidden itself and the full moon under dark clouds.
Be like the half-moon and keep unhappy dispositions away.
When will I be able to hang upon you like gold and silver?
You stroke my face with your tired nails while I shower your lips with kisses.

عز اقبال دولة سلامة بقاء . . . لصاحبه
Glory, prosperity, dominion, well-being and long life . . . to its owner

1. This Rubā‘ī with some different appears by the name of Shams Tabrīzī in Kullīyyt Shams Tabrīzī, ed. Bad al-Zamān Furūzānfar, Amir Kabir publications, 8th ed., Tehran, 1361/ 1983, p.1334. It is also attributed to Ṣadr al-Dīn khujandī and appears in Nuzhat al-Majālis, by Jamāl Khalīl Shīrvānī, ed. Muḥmmad Amīn Rīyāī, Zuvvār Publication, 1366/ 1988, p.208, No.767)

2. Abu l-Majd Majdud ibn Adam Sana‘i. Divan-i hakimi Abu l-Majd Majdud ibn Adam Sana‘i Ghaznavi. Edited by Muhammad Taqi Mudarris Razavi. N.p., 1983–84, p. 1010. Sana’i (d. 1131) was a Persian mystical poet who lived in Ghazna, in present-day Afghanistan, and served at the Ghaznavid court of Bahramshah (r. 1118–52).
V. Everit Macy, New York (until d. 1930; his estate, 1930–32; sold to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Ceramic Art of the Near East," 1931, no. 72.

Asia Society. "Iranian Ceramics," May 3, 1963–September 12, 1963, no. 58.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Balcony Calligraphy Exhibition," June 1, 2009–October 26, 2009, no catalogue.

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. 72, p. 18, no ill.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 27 (June 1932). pp. 160-61, ill. fig. 2.

Dimand, Maurice S. "A Picture Book." In Islamic Pottery of the Near East. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1936. ill. fig. 8.

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944.

Wilkinson, Charles K. Iranian Ceramics. New York: Asia House Gallery, 1963. no. 58, p. 131, ill. pl. 58 (b/w).

Ettinghausen, Richard. "The Flowering of Seljuq Art." Metropolitan Museum Journal vol. 3 (1970). p. 121, ill. fig. 11 (b/w).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1970. no. 164, p. 184, ill. (b/w).

A Guide to the Collections. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972. p. 181, ill. fig. 7.

Watson, Oliver. Persian Lustre Ware. London; Boston: Faber and Faber, 1985. p. 93, ill. fig. 65 (b/w).

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. 75, pp. 117-119, ill. p. 119 (color).

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