Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Bowl with Arabic Inscription

Object Name:
Bowl
Date:
10th century
Geography:
From Iran, Nishapur
Culture:
Islamic
Medium:
Earthenware; white slip with black-slip decoration under transparent glaze
Dimensions:
H. 7 in. (17.8 cm) Diam. 18 in. (45.7 cm)
Classification:
Ceramics
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1965
Accession Number:
65.106.2
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 450
The calligraphic decoration on this bowl reads "Planning before work protects you from regret; prosperity and peace," but the shortening, bending, and elongation of the letters has transformed the words into abstract motifs of tremendous power. With its monumental presence and the artful arrangement of its letters, in which vertical flourishes punctuate the horizontal flow of the words at rhythmic intervals, this bowl stands out among the many other inscribed ceramics of the same period.
Produced in northeastern Iran, in the province of Khurasan during the Samanid period, this large bowl with its high, flaring sides and bold, rhythmically spaced inscription in "new-style" script exemplifies the elegance and perfect harmony of the "black-on-white wares" unearthed in the cities of Nishapur and Samarqand. The most important contribution of Samanid potters was the invention and perfection of slip-painted ware. Clarity of design is achieved through the use of a white engobe (a thin wash of slip, or fluid clay, and pigment used as a ground) to cover the red earthenware, on which the inscription is painted in brownish pigment mixed with slip. By adding slip to the pigments, the potters prevented inscriptions and designs from running into one another.

Since this bowl was not among the objects unearthed in Nishapur at the time of the Metropolitan Museum excavations, its attribution is based entirely on visual analysis. It is a superb example of the most common type of black-on-white ware associated with that center. The style of the calligraphy, which is characterized by tall, slender vertical shafts and angular letters, is probably among the earliest versions of "new-style" script. Later adaptations of this script include floriated and plaited variations. The elegance and sophistication of the calligraphy demonstrate a particularly close kinship between calligrapher and potter.

By 875 the Samanids had established an autonomous state, controlling a vast and important area of the eastern Islamic world. In 900 they were granted the governorship of Khurasan by the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad. Although the Samanids often looked to their imperial past for inspiration, it is unlikely that this bowl was produced for a royal patron. In fact, the inscription suggests that it was probably made for a humbler individual. Inscriptions such as this one and others on similar vessels constitute the first extant examples of Arabic proverbs and adages to appear in the Islamic world.[1] Many make reference to the social codes and high standards of moral etiquette held by the denizens of Samanid Nishapur at a time when hospitality and generosity were deeply valued.[2] This particular saying belongs to the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad transmitted by ‘Ali.[3] Aphoristic in nature, it advises the owner against harmful or impetuous actions and decisions.

Maryam Ekhtiar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]

Footnotes:

1. Ettinghausen and Grabar 1987, p. 230.

2. Perpetual Glory: Medieval Islamic Ceramics from the Harvey B. Plotnick Collection. Exhibition, The Art Institute of Chicago. Catalogue by Oya Pancaroğlu with Manijeh Bayani. Chicago, 2007.

3. Ghouchani, A[bdullah]. Katibaha-yi sufal-i Nishabur/Inscriptions on Nishabur Pottery. Tehran, 1986, p. 80.
Inscription: Around the inner rim in Arabic in “new-style” script :
التدبیر قبل العمل یؤمنك من الندم الیمن والسلامه
Planning before work protects you from regret; good luck and well-being
[ E. Safani, New York, until 1965; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Celestial Pen: Islamic Calligraphy," September 28, 1982–February 7, 1983, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Balcony Calligraphy Exhibition," June 1, 2009–October 26, 2009, no catalogue.

Miles, George C., ed. Archaeologica Orientalia in Memoriam Ernst Herzfeld. Locust Valley, New York: J.J. Augustin Publisher, 1952.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1970. no. 126, p. 157, ill. (b/w).

Swietochowski, Marie, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina. Notable Acquisitions 1965–1975 (1975). p. 143, ill. (b/w).

James, David, and Richard Ettinghausen. Arab Painting. 3, vol. 29. New Delhi: Marg Publications, 1977. p. 4, ill. p. 4 (b/w).

Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Pottery: A Brief History." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, vol. 40, no. 4 (Spring 1983). no. 9, pp. 10-11, ill. pl. 9 (color).

Ettinghausen, Richard, and Oleg Grabar. The Art and Architecture of Islam: 650–1250. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1987.

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 22-23, ill. fig. 11 (color).

Grabar, Oleg. "1989 Andrew W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts." In Intermediary Demons Toward a Theory of Ornament. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1989. pp. 14-15, ill. fig. 7 (b/w).

de Montebello, Philippe, and Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 6th ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. p. 313, ill. fig. 5 (color).

Schimmel, Annemarie. "Islamic Calligraphy." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 50, no. 1 (Summer 1992). pp. 11-12, ill. fig. 14 (color).

Burn, Barbara, ed. Masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York; Boston: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. p. 83, ill. (color).

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. 67, pp. 108-110, ill. p. 109 (color).

Canby, Sheila R. "The Islamic Galleries at The Met." Arts of Asia, Arts of Asia, vol. 42 (September/October 2012). pp. 81-82, ill. fig. 2 (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. 6-7, ill.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. p. 127, ill. (color).

Khemir, Sabiha Al. Nur = Light: Light in Art and Science from the Islamic World. Seville, Spain: Fundación Focus-Abengoa, 2014. pp. 38-39, ill. fig. 18 (color).



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