The figures and decoration on the interior of this bowl combine imagery of the courtly cycle and astronomy. In the center the sun is surrounded by personifications of the planets (clockwise) Mars, Mercury, Venus, the moon, Saturn, and Jupiter. Islamic astronomers believed the planets orbited the earth, forming seven concentric circles. An eighth, outer sphere contained the constellations and signs of the zodiac, possibly represented by the six large and twelve small gold circles between the planets’ heads.
The finely painted figures and decoration on the interior of this bowl combine the imagery of the courtly cycle and astronomy. In the center is the sun surrounded by the personifications of six planets. Moving clockwise from the top right are Mars, holding a severed head and a sword; Mercury, the scribe, seated crosslegged with a pen in his right hand and scroll in his left; Venus, seated on a throne or chair and playing the lute; the moon, a female figure with a crescent moon around her head; Saturn, holding a sickle in each hand; and Jupiter, on a thronelike seat, holding something resembling a chain. Islamic astronomers believed that each planet orbited the earth; in graphic terms their circuits formed seven concentric circles, with the moon creating the innermost and Saturn the outermost circles based on their distance from the earth. Beyond the seventh sphere is an eighth containing the constellations, including the twelve signs of the zodiac.
Instead of including the fixed stars, or constellations, the painter of the bowl placed one large and two small gold circles, representing stars, between the heads of each planet and six small stars around the sun. A band of ten horsemen, separated by birds, rings the central group of planets. One interpretation identifies these figures as representations of the "ten periods of time governed by the thirty-six decans," or thirds of each astrological sign or month. Certainly the depiction of horses and riders moving in one circular direction could suggest the passage of time. However, the figures also could embody the idea of the cavalry, a key element of any ruler’s support and one emblem of the chivalric tradition in the Seljuq era. Since the band of figures on the inside rim consists of two enthroned men on opposite sides of the bowl and musicians and attendants inclining slightly toward their leader, much as the figures do in the gypsum-plaster panel of an enthroned figure and his courtiers, the horsemen are likely to denote one of the components of an orderly society, presided over by a capable king or prince in a universe governed by the planets. The inscriptions on the interior rim and the exterior are both fragmentary as a result of damage and overpainting. On the interior the words convey good wishes and on the exterior mention the "king of the Muslims" and more blessings.
Sheila R. Canby in [Canby, Beyazit, and Rugiadi 2016]
1. Following the Stars: Images of the Zodiac in Islamic Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1997. Catalogue by Stefano Carboni. New York, 1997, pp. 3, 20–21, and cover image.
2. Alexander, David, ed. Furusiyya. Vol. 2. Riyadh, 1998, vol. 2, p. 233. This entry also provides the bibliography for the bowl up to 1996.
Inscription: In Arabic, in kufic script, inside below the rim, and incorrectly written: "Good wishes"
In Persian, in cursive script, on the outside: "[undeciphered] al-Din Ruler of Islam and the Muslims"
In Arabic language and in Naskhi scrip
ملک البر و [البحر ...] الدنیا و الدین ملک الاسلام و المسلمین ابو ... ـعرک قسیم امیر المؤمنین
The king of mainland and sea … world and religion
King of Islam and the Muslims Abū …. mʻrak ally of the prince of faithful.
Inside in Kufic script
و البرکة و الرحمة و الیمن ... و النصر الغالب ... و السعادة ... و النعمة ... و الدولة و السعادة ... و النعمة .... و الفدرة
And blessing and merciful and good fortune … and winner victory … and happiness … and grace … and power and happiness … and grace … and power
[ M. Parish-Watson, New York, by 1922–31]; Mortimer L. Schiff, New York (until d. 1931); his son, John M. Schiff, New York (1931–57; sold and gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Ceramic Art of the Near East," 1931, no. 57.
London. Burlington House. "International Exhibition of Persian Art," January 7, 1931–February 28, 1931, no. 104D.
The Iranian Institute. "Exhibition of Persian Art," 1940, Gal. I, no. 25J.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Following the Stars: Images of the Zodiac in Islamic Art," February 4, 1997–August 31, 1997, no. 7.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rumi," October 15, 2007–March 5, 2008, no catalogue.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs," April 25, 2016–July 24, 2016, no. 123.
"Beitrage zu Einer Geschichte der Planetendarstellungen im Orient und im Okzident." Der Islam vol. 3 (1912). pp. 151-177.
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. 57, p. 14, ill.
Wilson, Arnold T. "7th January to 28th February, 1931." In Catalogue of the International Exhibition of Persian Art. 3rd. ed. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1931. no. 104D, p. 66.
"7th January to 28th February, 1931, Royal Academy of Arts, London." In Catalogue of the International Exhibition of Persian Art. 3rd edition ed. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1931. no. case 104D, p. 66.
Harari, Ralph, and Richard Ettinghausen. A Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present, edited by Arthur Upham Pope. Vol. I-VI. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1938. vol. II, p. 1563, ill. vol. V, pl. 656A.
Ackerman, Phyllis. "The Iranian Institute, New York." In Guide to the Exhibition of Persian Art. 2nd. ed. New York: The Iranian Institute, 1940. no. Gallery I, case 25J, p. 25.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1970. no. 161, p. 183, ill. (b/w).
Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). p. 18, ill. p. 18 (b/w).
Swietochowski, Marie, and Richard Ettinghausen. "Islamic Painting." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 36, no. 2 (Autumn 1978). p. 18.
Alexander, David. Furusiyya: Catalogue. vol. 2. Riyadh,Saudi Arabia: King Abdulaziz Public Library, 1996. no. 195, p. 233, ill. p. 233 (color).
Carboni, Stefano. Following the Stars: The Zodiac in Islamic Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. no. 7, pp. 20-21, ill. (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. 123, p. 206, ill. (color).