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 34

Image 34

Bowl with Arabic inscription
Late 10th–11th century
Iran, excavated at Nishapur; probably made in Samarqand (in present-day Uzbekistan)
Earthenware; white slip with polychrome slip decoration under transparent glaze; Diam. 14 in. (35.6 cm), H. 4 1/4 in. (10.8 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1940 (40.170.15)

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Nishapur, medieval, daily life, bowl, exchange, calligraphy ("new style" script), earthenware

The inscription on this bowl reads: "Blessing, prosperity, goodwill, peace, and happiness." The bowl belongs to a category of pottery that uses inscriptions as the primary decoration. The inscriptions often include blessings or good wishes for the owner, or simple proverbs. Some directly relate to the function of the bowls (such as "eat with appetite"; see image 7). Inscriptions such as these reflect the values and culture of hospitality of the inhabitants of medieval Nishapur.

The bowl was probably used for serving food, which would have been "blessed" by the good wishes written on the interior.

The calligraphic text, outlined in white, runs along the interior rim. The words have been carefully arranged and spaced so that the vertical letters at the beginning of each word punctuate the horizontal flow of the text at rhythmic intervals. Between the words are alternating red and black strokes; at the center of the bowl is a large motif of interlacing vegetal designs on a stippled ground.

Although this bowl was found in Nishapur, the style of the piece—with its interlaced design in the center and red and black lines above the words—suggests that it may have been made in Samarqand (a city on the Silk Road), where many vessels with this type of decoration and color palette have been unearthed. This work is a fine example of the calligraphic decoration popular in Iran in the ninth and tenth centuries. It was found near the center of Nishapur, where experts believe the governor's palace was located. The buildings uncovered in this area were larger in scale and had thicker walls and more prominent facades than structures found in other neighborhoods. Like the building in which it was found, this bowl is larger and of better quality than many ceramics unearthed in other areas of the city.

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History