Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Bowl with Dragons

Object Name:
dated A.H. 607/A.D. 1210
Attributed to Iran
Stonepaste; glazed in opaque white, luster-painted, part of the inscription scratched in luster
H. 4 1/4 in. (10.8 cm) Diam. 8 7/16 in. (21.4 cm) Wt. 15.3 oz. (433.8 g)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1961
Accession Number:
Not on view
Snakelike dragons, their heads confronting one another, run concentrically and intertwine on this bowl. Dragons were associated with the pseudo-planet al-Jawzahr, able to cause and reverse eclipses by swallowing moon and sun, and were thus both terrifying and beneficial, protective, and apotropaic. The bowl may have had a perceived beneficial quality, amplified by a twice-inscribed benediction:

May your power and glory be perpetual / May your good fortune surpass all limits / So that everything in this bowl brings you enjoyment / Oh master of the world, may it prolong your life.

The decoration on this bowl is organized in concentric bands, three of which are inscribed. Two others are intertwined and decorated with a scaled pattern, representing the snakelike bodies of serpents or dragons, the heads of which are positioned so as to confront one another in four pairs, their mouths open wide.[1] The bowl exhibits several characteristics of "Kashan style" wares, that is, luster-painted stonepaste vessels usually attributed to Kashan in the late twelfth to early thirteenth century.[2] These elements include the biconical shape, typical from the second half of the twelfth century; the Persian inscriptions, painted on or scratched (here upside down) into the luster; and the decorative program of interlaced geometric medallions with scribbled scrolls in the cavetto, the curled-up scrolls in one of the concentric bands, the double line marking the concentric bands, and the palmettes painted in reserve on the exterior.

Dragons are common in Anatolian, Jaziran, and Iraqi iconography, in both portable objects and on architectural decoration, where they often form part of a composition, but they rarely appear on coeval Iranian ceramics. This specific motif, however, is found on a number of vessels—bowls, a ewer, and a bottle—for which manufacture in the same workshop or according to a circulating pattern can be proposed.[3]

The iconography of the dragon may have retained its ancient protective and apotropaic meaning. It also had cosmological associations with the moon- and sun-swallowing pseudo-planet al-Jawzahr, which was held responsible for eclipses. Accordingly, the small motifs between the gaping maws of the dragons have been interpreted as references to the sun in a symbolic expression of rulership that is also found in poetry, as in this panegyric by ‘Uthman Mukhtari (d. 1118–21) for a Seljuq ruler of Kirman, Mu‘izz al-Din Arslan Shah Qawurdi: "(The Sultan), coiled like a snake, (holds) in his mouth, / Hidden like the teeth of the snake, the disk of the sun (muhreh-ye ma-r)."[4] Another bowl in this group, in The Metropolitan Museum (68.215.10), furthers this association through its more clearly rayed shamsa medallion at center, which also shows a lion painted in reserve.[5]

That the bowl, and possibly its imagery, may have had a perceived beneficial quality is supported by a twice-inscribed benediction wishing that "everything in this bowl" brings enjoyment and prolongs life. Good wishes to the owner, conveyed in Arabic, are common in metalwork and other forms of art but in this case are addressed to a "minister of the world"—an appellative which is most likely poetic, albeit evocative of the qualities and honorific titles associated with rulership. It is tempting to suggest that the bowl was made as a gift and that the inscription was meant to flatter its recipient.

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


1. Watson, Oliver. Persian Lustre Ware. The Faber Monographs on Pottery and Porcelain. London and Boston, 1985, pp. 106, 198, no. 19;
and Daneshvari, Abbas. Of Serpents and Dragons in Islamic Art: An Iconographical Study. Bibliotheca Iranica Islamic Art and Architecture Series, 13. Costa Mesa, Calif., 2011, p. 67, pl. 23, both with previous references. The luster is applied in two slightly differing colors: reddish (for the dragons’ scales, the middle inscription, and the palmettes on the exterior) and golden.

2. However, this bowl was also previously attributed to Gurgan. See Bahramı, Mehdı. Gurgan Faïences. Cairo, 1949.

3. Listed in Watson 1985 (reference in note 1 above), p. 106, and Daneshvari 2011 (reference in note 1 above), pl. 22, both with previous references. For a ewer in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (MAO 444), see Maguy Charritat in L’étrange et le merveilleux en terres d’Islam. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre, Paris, 2001. Catalogue by Marthe Bernus-Taylor and others. Paris, 2001, p. 110 n. 75. See also the bowl in the
Metropolitan Museum 68.216.10. Grube, Ernst J. “The Art of Islamic Pottery.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 23, no. 6 (February 1965), pp. 222, 224, fig. 28, suggests that the group was decorated by a single artist, but differences in the execution of the same, painted motifs speak against such an interpretation. Compare, for instance, the palmettes on the exterior of this bowl and MMA 68.216.10. It is possible to suggest, instead, that different hands worked on the same object.

4. Transcribed and translated in Daneshvari 2011 (reference in note 1 above), p. 66, which also offers (pp. 66–67) an interpretation of the “circular objects” between the dragons’ jaws.

5. The medallion also features a bird and vegetal elements. The lion may be read as a symbol of power and as the cosmological depiction of the constellation Leo within its planetary overlord, the sun. See 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. 32–33, no. 13.
Inscription: Inscribed in Persian in cursive script in three bands on the interior. From the topmost:

On the rim
در عالم عشق غم ز شادی کم نیست شادان نبود هرک بغم خرم نیست
هر چند دراز است بیابان بلا دیدم بپای عشق گامی هم نیست

In the realm of love, sorrow is not less than joy
He who has never felt sorrow cannot ever be happy
I have seen that the desert of affliction/temptation, however long it may be..
is hardly a step toward love.

همواره ترا دولت و عز افزون باد اقبال تو بگذشته ز حد بیرون باد
تا هرچه زین کاسه بکام تو رسد ای صدر جهان ترا بجان افزون باد

May your power and glory be perpetual
May your good fortune surpass all limits
So that everything in this bowl brings you enjoyment
O minister of the world—may it prolong your life

في جمادی الآخر سنة سبع و ستمائة

Jamadi al-Akhir, year 607 A.H. (1210 AD)

Second circle
شادی نکند سر گل ازینت نرسد مردی نکند سر گل گر بهم رسد
مارا فزون؟ ... می ترسانی ای هرچه ز تو دارد ار سر رسد

Problematic, cannot be translated

عز و اقبال و مهتری و سرور از خداوند این مبادا دور

May glory, prosperity, greatness and joy never be remote/far from [the owner]

جمادی الآخر

Jamadi al-Akhir

On the bottom

Same Ruba’i on the rim (no.2)

(همواره ترا دولت و عز افزون باد اقبال تو بگذشته ز حد بیرون باد
تا هرچه زین کاسه بکام تو رسد ای صدر جهان ترا بجان افزون باد

May your power and glory be perpetual
May your good fortune surpass all limits
So that everything in this bowl brings you enjoyment
O minister of the world—may it prolong your life)

نگه دار بادا جهان آفرین بهر جا که باشد خداوند این

May the Creator protect [the owner] wherever he may be.
S. Tillinger, Tehran (in 1949); H.D. Motamed, New York (until 1961; sold to MMA)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs," April 25, 2016–July 24, 2016, no. 144.

Bahrami, Mehdi. Gurgan Faiences. Cairo, 1949. no. 3, p. 129, ill. pl. LXIII.

Grube, Ernst J. "The Art of Islamic Pottery." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 23, no. 6 (February 1965). pp. 222, 224, ill. fig. 28 (b/w).

Watson, Oliver. Persian Lustre Ware. London; Boston: Faber and Faber, 1985. pp. 106, 198, Appendix III, no. 19.

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. 144, pp. 230-231, ill. p. 230 (color).

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