Learn/ Educators/ Curriculum Resources/ Art of the Islamic World/ Unit Six: From the City to the Steppe—Art Beyond the Royal Court/ Chapter One: Daily Life in Medieval Nishapur/ Featured Works of Art: Images 33–37/ Image 33

Image 33

Bowl with green, yellow, and brown splashed decoration
10th century
Iran, probably Nishapur
Earthenware; white slip incised and splashed with polychrome glazes under a transparent glaze (sgraffito ware); H. 2 7/8 in. (7.3 cm); Diam. 10 1/4 in. (26 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1938 (38.40.137)

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Nishapur, medieval, daily life, bowl, exchange, splashware, floral and vegetal ornament, earthenware

This bowl was excavated in Nishapur. The abundance of bowls with this type of decoration found there attests to their popularity. They were likely produced in Nishapur in large numbers.

Bowls such as this would have been used in Nishapur homes in the tenth century. The craftsmanship and aesthetic appeal of the bowl would likely have made it a prized possession.

This earthenware bowl has two separate layers of decoration. The top layer consists of translucent splash-color glazes in green, yellow, and purple brown. The layer below was created using so-called sgraffito, lines scratched into the clay through the thin coat of white slip covering the reddish tan earthenware body. Incised on the rim of the bowl is an alternating series of stylized flowers and other vegetal forms. A lattice pattern decorates the center.

The bowl's green-and-brown splashed-glaze decoration imitates a type of Chinese ceramic known as sancai ware (fig. 39). A few shards of Chinese ceramics with green and brown glazes were unearthed during the Museum's excavations at Nishapur, demonstrating the presence of Chinese imports in that city.

Splashwares emulating Chinese pottery were first produced in Abbasid Iraq and were the result of extensive trade in ceramics between China and Iraq. It is likely that the Abbasid ceramics made their way to Nishapur and were another important source of inspiration for the Nishapur splashwares. The incised decorations on the Nishapur splashware, however, were a local innovation not seen in either the Chinese originals or the Abbasid examples.

Fig. 39. Ewer, Tang dynasty (618–906), late 7th century; China; earthenware with three-color (sancai  ) glaze; H. 11 1/8 in. (28.3 cm); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Stanley Herzman, in memory of Gladys Herzman, 1997 (1997.1.2). The decoration and color palette of this Chinese ewer bear a strong resemblance to the bowl from Nishapur.

It was made during the Tang dynasty, predating the period in which Nishapur was an active production center of ceramics. The two regions were actively engaged in trade, and Chinese splashwares were likely imported into Iran. Chinese ceramic shards found at Nishapur during the Metropolitan Museum's excavations provide evidence of this influence.

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