The signature of the artist Muslim appears beneath the eagle's right claw and underneath the foot of this remarkable bowl. Muslim is the only Egyptian potter of this period (ca. 1000) whose name is known. In representing this heraldic eagle, he used a motif that had been popular for a long time and was not limited to the iconography of Fatimid works.
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Title:Bowl with Eagle
Maker:Muslim Ibn al-Dahhan (Egyptian)
Geography:Attributed to Egypt
Medium:Earthenware; luster-painted on opaque white glaze
Dimensions:H. 2 7/8 in. (7.3 cm) Diam. 10 in. (25.4 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of Charles K. and Irma B. Wilkinson, 1963
Bowl with Eagle (63.178.1) and Bowl with Hare (64.261)
The tenth and eleventh centuries under the Fatimid caliphate were times of prosperity in Egypt and the neighboring lands, when a burgeoning class of wealthy consumers emerged. The luster potteries recently established in Cairo by émigré specialists from Basra offered exactly the kind of luxury products this new elite demanded. In such an atmosphere, it is not surprising that makers’ marks are often found on Fatimid-period lusterware. One such instance is that of Muslim, a name that appears in two places on the bowl decorated with an eagle (no. 63.178.1). More than forty known Fatimid-period ceramic objects or fragments and at least one luster-painted glass piece bear some version of this signature.
A more complete rendering of the name, Muslim ibn al-Dahhan (Muslim son of the painter), appears on one of these fragments in the Benaki Museum, Athens, along with the name of the patron, whose nisba suggests that he was associated with the court of Caliph al-Hakim (r. 996–1021). This inscription dates the ceramist’s production to the time of that reign. Because these works vary considerably in quality and style, it has been argued that the word Muslim must be a workshop trademark rather than the signature of an individual artist. However, elsewhere such variability is explained by the suggestion that Muslim was both a master ceramist and the head of a workshop that used his name on its ware.
This straight-sided, low-footed bowl is one of the few signed Muslim works that is complete. Its decoration provides a prime example of the vitality characteristic of Fatimid painting, which is quite distinct from the rigidity of late Abbasid lusterware. The monumental eagle, painted in a greenish-yellow luster against a white ground, occupies the entire interior of the bowl. Even though the artist has adopted an age-old, heraldic pose and embellished the creature improbably with strings of pearls and tiraz-like bands, his painterly execution breathes life into the eagle. A similar depiction of an eagle with spread wings may once have decorated the center of the previously mentioned Benaki fragment.
The same sense of dynamism enlivens the second bowl, depicting a hare (no. 64.261), which shares many features with the "Muslim" bowl but bears no signature. The hare strikes an especially lively pose: it raises its front leg playfully, in an animated version of the heraldic "passant" position, and—like the eagle above—grasps in its mouth a sprig of clover. Its figure is executed in yellow-colored luster pigment. As is typical of most of the "Muslim" examples, the details of its eyes and the articulation of its body parts are reserved in white. The hare was a particularly popular motif in the art of the Fatimid period in Egypt, where it may have been associated with good fortune. A number of similar hares decorate objects and fragments in other collections. Surrounding the hare, trefoils and sprigs sprout from a circular border that is itself enclosed by a slanted vine scroll repeated in a wavelike pattern. Both bowls carry over features from the Basran phase of luster-painted ceramic production, including the interstitial "peacock eye" filler on the eagle bowl, the festoon border on the hare bowl, and the circle-and-dash motifs on the outer walls of both.
Ellen Kenney in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
2. Jenkins 1968. As Jenkins pointed out, it was not that uncommon for Fatimid-period ceramics to bear signatures of some kind, but Muslim’s is the only one so far that can be assigned dates on an inscriptional basis.
3. Jenkins listed twenty in her appendix (ibid., pp. 366–69). Helen Philon published another eleven (Philon, Helen. Early Islamic Ceramics: Ninth to Late Twelfth Centuries. Mouseio Benake Catalogue of Islamic Art, vol. 1. London, 1980, pp. 167–78, 197–201), and noted further examples (ibid., p. 168 n. 53). A shard published in Watson 2004 (p. 280, cat. Ja.8, no. LNS 975 C e) can be added to this list. On the glass object, see Contadini 1998, p. 82.
4. Jenkins 1968, p. 361.
5. Watson 2004, p. 280.
6. This explanation, first suggested by Marilyn Jenkins (1968), was supported by Robert Mason’s petrographic analysis pointing out the shared attributes among these works, which belong to a technical group that he dated between 975 and 1025 (Mason 2004, p. 65). Mason sampled and analyzed the petrography of both the bowls presented here and published their profile drawings (ibid., p. 83, fig. 4.4, and p. 193).
7. Philon 1980 (see footnote 4), p. 198. Jonathan M. Bloom demonstrated Philon’s proposition with superimposed images in Bloom 2007, p. 95, fig. 3. For another similar eagle bowl, see O’Kane 2006, pp. 80–81, no. 73.
8. For publications on the symbolism of the hare in the Fatimid context, see Dodd, Erica Cruikshank. "On a Bronze Rabbit from Fatimid Egypt." Kunst des Orients 8, nos. 1–2 (1972), pp. 60–76; and Daneshvari, Abbas. "Symbolism of the Rabbit in the Manuscript of Warqa wa Gulshah." In Essays in Islamic Art and Architecture in Honor of Katharina Otto-Dorn, edited by Abbas Daneshvari, pp. 21–28, figs. 1– 10. Malibu, 1981.
9. For examples, see Benaki Museum, nos. 19447 (Philon 1980 [see footnote 4], p. 206, fig. 425), 207 (ibid., p. 202, fig. 414), and 1959a [signed "Muslim"] (ibid., p. 199, fig. 408); O’Kane 2006, pp. 80–81, no. 72. 10. Mason 2004, p. 63.
Bowl with Eagle
The ceramist who made and signed this outstanding bowl—once beneath the bird's right talon on the interior of the vessel and again on its foot—was active about the year 1000. Although it was common practice for potters of the Fatimid period (969–1171) to sign the objects they made, Muslim is the only such artisan whose work can be precisely dated. Muslim chose a long-popular motif for his principal decoration, a heraldic eagle with spread wings, claws and a tail. Used as the insignia of the Roman legions before passing from the Roman into the Byzantine repertoire, the eagle became an important decorative motif on objects created by and for the Christian population in Egypt before the Arab conquest in 641. As the Muslim conquerors fell heir to the Greco-Roman tradition, so prevalent in Egypt at the time, it is not at all surprising to find this motif adapted—note the beak and tail feathers terminating in a vegetal design—on the present work.
This vessel is decorated by means of the luster-painting technique, one of the most important contributions of potters working under Muslim patronage and one that left a permanent imprint on the ceramic industry in general. Potters active in the Byzantine realms never worked in this technique. Because it was a carefully guarded secret passed from father to son and traveling to another Muslim country only when the center of power (and thus the patronage) shifted. Byzantine ceramists most likely never had the opportunity to learn the technique.
Byzantine pottery is usually cruder and far less refined than that produced contemporaneously in the Islamic world. Indeed, the most prevalent decorative techniques used in Byzantine ceramics are those found on the more common or provincial types of Islamic pottery. Is this an accident of history? Where the Byzantines more interested in vessels of precious or base metals than in those of the cheaper, more fragile earthenware? Or were Byzantine potters simply less adventurous and less capable than their Muslim neighbors?
[Evans and Wixom 1997]
Signature: On the exterior, on the base: "Muslim"
Inscription: In Arabic in kufic script on interior below eagle’s right claw and below base in ochre luster:
Walter Hauser, New York (by 1938); Charles K. and Irma B. Wilkinson, Sharon, CT (by 1961–63; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Glory of Byzantium," March 11–July 6, 1997, no. 272.
Paris. Musée du Louvre. "Louvre Long Term Loan," April 28, 2004–April 27, 2006, no catalogue.
Toronto. Aga Khan Museum. "The World of the Fatimids," March 10, 2018–July 2, 2018.
Grube, Ernst J. "The Art of Islamic Pottery." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 23, no. 6 (February 1965). p. 214, ill. figs. 10–11 (b/w).
Lukens, Marie G. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide to the Collections: Islamic Art. vol. 9. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1965. p. 7, ill. fig. 8.
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Muslim: An Early Fatimid Ceramist." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, vol. 26 (May 1968). pp. 360, 367, ill. fig. 2 (b/w).
Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). p. 9, ill. (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. 82, pp. 270, 313, ill. pl. 82 (color), profile in b/w.
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Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 23, 25, ill. fig. 13 (color).
Soucek, Priscilla, ed. Content and Context of Visual Arts in the Islamic World : papers from a colloquium in memory of Richard Ettinghausen, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Monographs on the fine arts, vol. 44. University Park, PA: College Art Association of America, 1988. pp. 69, 79, ill. fig. 7 (b/w).
Hillenbrand, Robert. "Mamluk and Ilkhanid Bestiaries: Convention and Experiment." Ars Orientalis vol. 20 (1990). pp. 151, 168, ill. fig. 6 (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. 314, ill. fig. 6 (color).
Melikian-Chirvani, Assadullah, ed. The World of the Fatimids. Hirmer Verlag, 2018. pp. 80, 340, ill. frontispiece, pp. 80, 340 (color).
Evans, Helen, and William D. Wixom, ed. "Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era A.D. 843–1261." In The Glory of Byzantium. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. no. 272, p. 416, ill. (color).
Contadini, Anna. Fatimid Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: V & A Museum, 1998.
Mason, Robert Barry. "Shine like the Sun: Lustre-Painted and Associated Pottery from the Medieval Middle East." Bibliotheca Iranica: Islamic Art and Architecture Series, series 12, (2004).
Watson, Oliver. "Kuweit National Museum - The Al-Sabah Collection." In Ceramics from Islamic Lands. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2004.
O'Kane, Bernard. The Treasures of Islamic Art in the Museums of Cairo. Cairo; New York: American University in Cairo Press, 2006.
Bloom, Jonathan M. "Islamic Art and Architecture in Fatimid North Africa and Egypt." In Arts of the City Victorious. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007. p. 95, ill. fig. 62 (color).
Carboni, Stefano. "The Arts of the Fatimid Period at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Ismaili (2008). p. 7, ill. fig. 8 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Priscilla P. Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Haidar, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 93, pp. 137, 145–46, ill. p. 145 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam. "Shimmering Surfaces: Lustre Ceramics of the Islamic World." Arts of Asia vol. 42 (2012). p. 93, ill. fig. 6 (color).
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