A large assembly with an audience of ten people, or singers, surrounding the ’ud-player is depicted on this turquoise bowl. Bowls of fruit suggest the festive nature of the event.
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Title:Turquoise Bowl with Lute Player and Audience
Date:late 12th–early 13th century
Geography:Attributed to Iran
Medium:Stonepaste; glazed (opaque monochrome), in-glaze- and overglaze-painted, gilded
Dimensions:H. 3 1/2 in. (8.9 cm) Diam. 7 3/4 in. (19.7 cm) Wt. 12.3 oz. (348.7 g)
Credit Line:Henry G. Leberthon Collection, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. A. Wallace Chauncey, 1957
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. 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.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 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. 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).
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. 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
Bowl with Lute Player
Representations of music-making were part and parcel of the courtly iconography of the medieval Islamic world. On this bowl an elegant lute player is depicted performing next to two platters laden with fruit, one inscribed in Arabic with the expression "lasting happiness", signifying the courtly prerogative of wel-being and enjoyment. This central composition is framed by ten roundels containg figures who may represent the audience or perhaps the singers accompanying the musician. Near the rim is a band of Kufic inscriptions of good wishes in Arabic. These verbal and visual elements combine to echo the mores of the social environment, in which the bowl, as a potentially utilitarian object used in the act of offering food, becomes a symbol of generosity and pleasure. This concept is reinforced by the inscription on the exterior of the bowl, which consists of a Persian adage followed by expressions of good wishes, such as 'prevailing help to the owner'.
The lute player, set off against a brilliant turquoise background, is represented as a prticularly graceful courtier. The moon-face physiognomy and the long and sinuous tresses complement the sumptuous attire, with gold tiraz (armbands with embroidered inscriptions), reflecting the elegance of courtly environments. These are the ingredient of a unisex aesthetic that came to dominate the literary and visual culture of the Seljuk period (mid-eleventh to mid-thirteenth centuries). In this case, the primary clue to the lute player's gender is the tripartite headgear, the form of which is derived from Sasanian royal crowns and is almost exclusively a male attribute.
Oya Pancaroglu in [Roxburgh 2005]
Inscription: Inscribed, in Arabic in kufic on the interior: Benedictions In Persian in cursive on the exterior: Undecipherable; the last three words are “prevailing help to the owner”
In naskhi on the exterior:
هر دم همه ساله مي دود در تک و تاز یک چند بناخوشي ....
... جهد مرگ کوتاه کند همه حدیثان؟ دراز
[. . .] Every moment, all year he runs / Even in ill-health // Against death / (that) cuts all long stories short [. . .]
Continuing in Arabic:
عز دائم و الاقبال الزاید و النصر الغالب لصاحبه
Everlasting glory, good fortune, and conquering victory to the owner.
(A. Ghouchani, 2011)
Part of the inscription read by Annemarie Schimmel as:
Continuous glory, continuous fortune, happiness, wellbeing ...
A. Ghouchani, 2011
Henry G. Leberthon, Hempstead, NY (by 1936–d. 1939; bequeathed to Mrs. Chauncey); Louise Ruxton Chauncey, New York (1939–57; gifted to MMA)
Asia Society. "Iranian Ceramics," May 3, 1963–September 12, 1963, no. 63.
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Turks: A Journey of a Thousand Years, 600–1600," January 22, 2005–April 15, 2005, no. 42.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rumi and the Sufi Tradition," October 23, 2007–February 3, 2008, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs," April 25–July 24, 2016, no. 87.
Wilkinson, Charles K. Iranian Ceramics. New York: Asia House Gallery, 1963. no. 63, p. 132, ill. exterior (b/w), interior (color).
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: Kodansha International Ltd., 1977. no. 85, pp. 271, 313, ill. pl. 85 (color), profile in b/w.
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Pottery: A Brief History." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, vol. 40, no. 4 (Spring 1983). no. 19, pp. 18–19, ill. pl. 19 (color).
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 36–37, ill. fig. 24 (color).
Frishkopf, Michael, and Federico Spinetti. Music, Sound, and Architecture in Islam. Austin, Texas: University of Texas, 2018. pp. 342–43, ill. fig. 13.2 (b/w).
Roxburgh, David J., ed. Turks . A Journey of a Thousand Years, 600–1600. London, New York: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005. no. 42, pp. 88, 387, ill. pl.. 42 (color).
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. 88, pp. 157–58, ill. p. 158 (color).
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