Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Bowl with Musicians in a Garden

Object Name:
late 12th–early 13th century
Stonepaste; glazed in opaque white, luster-painted
H. 3 1/2 in. (8.9 cm) Diam. 8 3/8 in. (21.3 cm) Wt. 16.5 oz. (467.8 g)
Credit Line:
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Horace Havemeyer, 1956
Accession Number:
Not on view
Checkerboard cypresses, a stylized canopy, and a flying bird on the luster bowl symbolize the garden pavilion where two women play the lute and possibly sing. They sport tattooed hands and wear earrings, drop-shaped diadems, and dresses ornamented with harpies and scrolls, which aid in the evocation of a luxurious setting. A larger assembly with an audience of ten people, or possibly singers, surrounding the 'ud player is depicted on the turquoise bowl. Bowls of fruit suggest the festive nature of the event
This bowl represents an aspect of a theme redolent of the lives of the elite: musical entertainment and feasting. The musicians on this luster bowl, a lute player and most likely a singer, are depicted outdoors; the checkerboard cypresses and long dotted branches at their sides, as well as the small canopy and flying bird above their heads, symbolize the gardens and pavilions where most of these activities would have taken place in the warmer months. The presence of poetic inscriptions points to the close relation between music and poetry, which was often recited at social gatherings and majālis.

The instrument depicted is a variation of the lute. The one here, crafted from one graduated piece of wood, is a barbat, the most commonly seen variant in Islamic art. Despite religious proscriptions, music was the subject of many Arabic texts, from those continuing the Late Antique philosophical exploration of the physical properties and effects of sound to those on musical theory and the mystical aspects of listening to music. Musicians could be male or female; those depicted here are women as identified by the drop-shaped diadems on their their headdresses and their henna tattoos. The latter, medallions or flowers on the back of the singer's hand and possibly on the arm of the lute player, was a largely female cosmetic practice, attested in the medieval period in both peotry and the visual arts (see for example, the woman in cat. 22)

In this intimate garden scene the sumptuous clothes and jewels evoke a luxurious setting. Although such entertainments would have taken place among persons of high rank and social and cultural elites, this scene may have been intended specifically to depict a courtly setting, and indeed, musicians and enthroned figures often appear together. Their presence on a sophisticated, yet utilitarian, object such as this bowl, paired with the blessings added in the inscription, speaks to the symbolic beneficence of courtly and princely life in the visual language of the period.

Martina Rugiadi (author) in [Canby et al. 2016]
Inscription: - In Arabic; in knotted kufic script, around the interior rim: "Happiness" (repeated).

- In Persian; around the exterior rim: [Untranslated].

on the interior in decorative Kufic script and outside two ruba’is written in Naskhi script:
... هر جهان تنگ آید باید که ز ناجنس و خش ننگ آید
با هر گهر لب گرچه هم رنگ آید فریاد بر آورد چون سنگ آید

ای دوست مجوی گر خردمندی خاصیت راز یابد؟
از زیره کی کز مردم سفله ناید
نبرد نفت روغن شیر؟

Horace Havemeyer, New York (by 1942–d. 1956; bequeathed to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection," March 27, 1993–June 20, 1993.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs," April 25, 2016–July 24, 2016.

Dimand, Maurice S. "The Horace Havemeyer Bequest of Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol.15 (May 1957). pp. 208, 210, ill. p. 210 (b/w).

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 3rd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1958. p. 368, ill. fig. 235.

Ettinghausen, Richard. "The Flowering of Seljuq Art." Metropolitan Museum Journal vol. 3 (1970). p. 120, ill. fig. 10 (b/w).

Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn, Suzanne G. Valenstein, and Julia Meech-Pekarik. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art." In Oriental Ceramics: The World's Great Collections. vol. 12. Tokyo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977. ill. pl. 246 (b/w), interior and profile.

Frelinghuysen, Alice Cooney. Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. p. 121, ill. pl. 111 (b/w).

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. 87, pp. 157-158, ill. p. 157 (color).

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