Many ceramics from the Nishapur region are decorated with calligraphy. The writing on these objects often relates to their use (i.e., "Eat with appetite") or repeat a familiar proverb. The writing on this bowl expresses good wishes for the owner: "Blessing, felicity, prosperity, well-being, happiness." Curiously, the inscription includes the start of an additional word, al, meaning "the," but not the rest of the word. The tall vertical strokes of these letters must have been included to make the overall visual effect of the inscription more harmonious. This bowl is thought to come from Samarqand, because the central motif of interlacing straps is also found on metal objects made there.
This bowl exemplifies the distinctive group of Samanid-era ceramics, known as epigraphic wares, which have calligraphy as their major form of decoration. The texts on these objects tend to be either proverbs or general blessings, and while the inscription on this bowl falls into the latter category, its particular phrasing appears to be unique.
Unlike many of the known epigraphic objects with stark white or black slip backgrounds, the walls of this bowl are covered by alternating red and black strokes, and the base of its interior has a motif of interlacing straps on a stippled ground. Because of these features, the bowl has been attributed to Samarqand, although it was found at Nishapur, during the Metropolitan Museum’s excavations at this site. The evidence of metalwork seems to support this attribution, because the use of its strapwork motif and stippled ground can be related to the decoration of metalwares from Transoxiana, the region of Samarqand, rather than Khurasan, the region of Nishapur.
Another distinctive feature of the bowl that may point to its place of origin is the way in which the tips of the tall vertical letters in the inscription bend forward. While it has been suggested that the letters have been elongated to evoke the head of a bird, no study has thus far attempted to tie the use of certain scripts or their decorative modifications to a particular place of production.
The flourishing of epigraphic wares, so specific to the Samanid realms, has yet to be explained. Perhaps there was a tradition of making inscribed metalware in this region, comparable to the silver objects from the Hamadan hoard of western Iran, to which the inscribed ceramics can be related.
Marika Sardar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. The extensive bibliography on this group includes Krachovskaya, V. A. "Evolyutsiya kuficheskogo pis’ma v Srednei Azii." Epigrafika Vostoka 3 (1949), pp. 3–27 and Krachovskaya, V. A. "Arabskoe pis’mo na pamyatnikakh Srednei Azii i Zakavkaz’ya IX – XI VV." Epigrafika Vostoka 10 (1955), pp. 38 – 60; Bol’shakov, O. G. "Arabskie nadpisi na polivnoi keramike Srednei Azii." Epigrafika Vostoka 12 (1958), pp. 23–38; 15 (1963), pp. 73–87; 16 (1963), pp. 35–55; 17 (1966), pp. 54–62; Davidovich, E. A. "Dva Samarkandskikh kuvshina s datoi i imenem mastera i nadpisi." Kratkie soobshcheniya i dokladakh i polevyikh issledovaniyakh Instituta Istorii Material’noi Kultury 80 (1960), pp. 109–13; Volov, Lisa. "Plaited Kufic on Samanid Epigraphic Pottery." Ars Orientalis 6 (1966), pp. 107–33, pls. 1–6; Ventrone, G. "Iscrizioni inedite su ceramica samanide in collezioni italiane." In Gururajamanjarika: Studi in onore do Giuseppe Tucci, pp. 221–32. Instituto Universitario Orientale. Naples, 1974; Ghouchani, A[bdullah]. Katibaha-yi sufal-i Nishabur/Inscriptions on Nishabur Pottery. Tehran, 1986, p. 80; Terres secrètes de Samarcande: Céramiques du VIIIe au XIIIe siècle. Exhibition, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; Musée de Normandie, Caen; Musée des Augustins, Toulouse. Paris, 1992, pp. 54–58, 90–92, 96, 103–4; Grube 1994, pp. 51–53, 76–91, 94–105; and Pancaroğlu, Oya, "Serving Wisdom: The Contents of Samanid Epigraphic Pottery." In Studies in Islamic and Later Indian Art from the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, pp. 58–75. Cambridge, Mass., 2002.
2. Wilkinson 1973, pp. 130–31 and p. 146, pl. 1. This bowl was found at Tepe Madrasa in a well with another similarly decorated bowl that is now in the Iran Bastan Museum, Tehran. For more information on the attribution, see ibid.
3. Raby, Julian. "Looking for Silver in Clay: A New Perspective on Samanid Ceramics." In Pots and Pans: A Colloquium on Precious Metals in the Muslim, Chinese and Greco-Roman Worlds, Oxford, 1985, edited by Michael Vickers, pp. 179–204. Oxford, 1986, esp. pp. 198–99.
4. Grube 1994, pp. 55, 98, 102, 105.
5. Raby 1985, p. 190 (reference in footnote 5).
Inscription: Inscription in Arabic in “new-style” script around rim:
البرکة و الغبطة و النعمة و السلامة و السعادة الـ
Blessing, felicity, prosperity, well-being, happiness [. . .]
1939, excavated at Tepe Madrasa in Nishapur, Iran by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's expedition; 1940, acquired by the Museum in the division of finds
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Calligraphy West of China," March 15, 1972–May 7, 1972, no catalogue.
New York. Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. "The Educated Eye," January 1973–February 1973.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Nature of Islamic Ornament Part II: Vegetal Patterns," September 10, 1998–January 10, 1999, no catalogue.
Paris. Musée du Louvre. "Louvre Long Term Loan," April 28, 2004–April 27, 2006, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Balcony Calligraphy Exhibition," June 1, 2009–October 26, 2009, no catalogue.
Pope, Arthur Upham. Masterpieces of Persian Art. New York, 1945. p. 81, ill. pl. 45 (b/w).
McAllister, Hannah, Maurice S. Dimand, Charles K. Wilkinson, and Walter Hauser. "Excavations of the Iranian Expedition in the Kanat Teppeh, Nishapur." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, old series, vol. 37 (1942). pp. 111, 114, ill. fig. 40 (b/w).
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 164, ill. fig. 100 (b/w).
Lane, Arthur. "Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia." In Early Islamic Pottery. Faber Monographs on Pottery and Porcelain. London: Faber and Faber, 1947. p. 18, ill. pl. 15B (b/w).
Wilkinson, Charles K. "The Glazed Pottery of Nishapur and Samarkand." Bulletin of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Series, vol. 20, no. 3 (November 1961). p. 108, ill. fig. 12 (b/w).
Wilkinson, Charles K. Nishapur: Pottery of the Early Islamic Period. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1973. no. 2, ch. 4, pp. 131, 146, ill. p. 146 (b/w).
Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). ill. p. 10 (b/w).
Grube, Ernst J., and Manijeh Bayani. Cobalt and Lustre: the First Centuries of Islamic Pottery. The Nasser D. Khalili collection of Islamic Art, Vol. 9. London: Nour Foundation, 1994.
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. 68, pp. 7, 110-111, ill. pl. 68 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, and Claire Moore, ed. "A Resource for Educators." In Art of the Islamic World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. pp. 172-173, ill. pl. 34 (color).