Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Bowl with Musicians in a Garden

Object Name:
late 12th–early 13th century
Attributed to Iran
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:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 453
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
#611. Bowl with Musicians in a Garden
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Two Bowls with Musicians (MMA 56.185.13 and MMA 57.61.16)

These bowls represent different aspects of a theme redolent of the lives of the elite: musical entertainment and feasting. The musicians on the luster bowl (MMA 56.185.13), 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. A larger gathering is depicted on the mina’i bowl (MMA 57.61.16), where ten people, all but one seated, encircle the lute player, perhaps representing his audience or a group of singers.[1] The raised bowls full of fruit further suggest the festive nature of the event. The presence in both cases of poetic inscriptions points to the close relation between music and poetry, which was often recited at social gatherings and majālis (see MMA 64.178.1).

The instruments depicted are variation of the lute. The one in MMA 56.185.13, crafted from one graduated piece of wood, is a barbat, the most commonly seen variant in Islamic art, while that in MMA 57.61.16 is an ’ud, of which the sound box and neck are made separately.[2]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.[3] Musicians could be male or female; those depicted on MMA 57.61.16 are men, while those in MMA 56.185.13 are women as identified by the drop-shaped diadems on their their headdresses and their henna tattoos.[4] 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 poetry and the visual arts (see for example, the woman in MMA 1975.1.1643).[5]

In both the intimate garden scene and the large musical assembly, 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, these scenes may have been intended specifically to depict a courtly setting, and indeed, musicians and enthroned figures often appear together.[6] Their presence on a sophisticated, yet utilitarian, objects such as these bowls, paired with the blessings added in the inscriptions, speak to the symbolic beneficence of courtly and princely life in the visual language of the period.

Martina Rugiadi in [Canby, Beyazit, and Rugiadi 2016]


1. Joel, Guillermina, and Audrey Peli. Suse: Terres cuites islamiques, edited by Sophie Makariou, Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts de l’Islam. Ghent and Paris, 2005, pp. 198–212; Kiyanı, Muhammad Yusuf. The Islamic City of Gurgan. Berlin, 1984, p. 79, fig. 40; Safar, Fu’ad. Wasit: The Sixth Season’s Excavations. Cairo, 1945, pp. 36–37, figs. 21(120–33), 22, pls. 18–21. Based on the archaeological contexts in which they were found, the Susa group dates to the twelfth–thirteenth century and the Wasit group to the second half of the thirteenth. Similar earthenware figurines, possibly of the seventh century, from Afrasiyab and the Bukhara Oasis suggest a long-standing tradition of manufacture; see Lo Muzio, Ciro. “Unpublished Terracotta Figurines from the Bukhara Oasis.” In Callieri, Pierfrancesco, and Luca Colliva, eds. Proceedings of the 19th Meeting of the European Association of South Asian Archaeology in Ravenna, Italy, July 2007.
Vol. 2, Historic Periods. Oxford, 2010, pp. 181–83, figs. 2–4.

2. Animal figurines excavated at Wasit (also known from a large number of sites, including Rayy, Nishapur, and Merv) are also modeled.

3. Or a toy shop, according to Safar 1945 (reference in note 1 above).

4. For Wasit, see Safar 1945 (ibid), fig. 21(123), pl. 20. For Susa, see Joel and Peli 2005 (reference in note 1 above), nos. 265–68, and p. 198, which posits that one of the figurines originally held a finger to its lips in the traditional Iranian gesture of astonishment.

5. The house models are in glazed stonepaste, and their figurines are molded. An interpretation as a nuptial gift may also explain the Wasit figurines holding a doll or a baby, and the depiction of a royal symposium, as the elaborate headdresses suggest, may be associated
with the beneficial value of the royal image
Inscription: Inscribed, in Arabic in knotted kufic on the interior rim:
In Persian, in decorative kufic on the interior:
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
If the world is diminished (in any way) the malicious
and the base must be disgraced // Lips are as red as
jewels (rubies) that will cry if they encounter a stone.
In naskhi on the exterior:
ای دوست مجوی گر خردمندی خاصیت رازیانه از زیره // از مردم سفله
مردمی ناید / به دبه نفت روغن شیره)؟(
Oh friend, be wise — do not seek the qualities of fennel
in cumin // Do not expect civility from base people / it is
like putting oil in a pit of [. . .] (untranslatable verses).

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, no. 111.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs," April 25, 2016–July 24, 2016, no. 88.

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, and Martina Rugiadi. "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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