Objects 63.178.1 and 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.
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Muslim: An Early Fatimid Ceramist." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, vol. 26 (May 1968). p. 365, ill. fig. 14 (b/w).
Contadini, Anna. Fatimid Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: V & A Museum, 1998.
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: The 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.
Carboni, Stefano. "The Arts of the Fatimid Period at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Ismaili (2008). p. 7, ill. fig. 9 (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. 91, pp. 145-146, ill. p. 145 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam. "Shimmering Surfaces: Lustre Ceramics of the Islamic World." Arts of Asia vol. 42 (2012). p. 93, ill. fig. 7 (color).