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 (author) in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
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.
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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).