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HOME : Islamic Art : Bowls : Earthenware Bowl
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Earthenware Bowl - JB.1131
Circa: 10 th Century AD to 11 th Century AD
Dimensions: 3.2" (8.1cm) high x 11.2" (28.4cm) wide
Collection: Islamic
Style: Nishapur
Medium: earthenware
Condition: Extra Fine

Additional Information: A

Location: Great Britain
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Earthenware, fine slip, white with greenish tinge and polychrome decoration beneath transparent lead- based glaze; curving sides rise up from short foot- ring through to slightly everted rim; bowl entirely occupied by standing figure with arms perpendicular to body; long black tresses, green tunic and highly stylised features, surrounded by vines and flowers; rim with bold pseudo Kufic inscription animated by fauna; glaze to exterior bar exposed footring. Repaired from 4 fragments only with clean breaks. At the time this piece was produced in 10th century, Nishapur – a cultural, commercial and intellectual centre – had reached the height of its prosperity. Capital of the ancient historical region known as Khurasan and trading stop on commercial routes from Transoxiana and China, Iraq and Egypt. Under Abbasid helm – ACE 750-1258 - the vast Islamic Empire stretched from Spain to the borders of India, through Persia and the Middle East and along the coast of North Africa. Dominion however, was nominal and great power transfers defined the political vista lending to cultural multiplicity, great diversity and regional variation in the arts. The use of a ground slip to cover the colour of the clay, for example, was developed in and restricted to Iran and parts of Central Asia in 10th-11th centuries. Nishapur was one of the main centres of high-class ceramic production. This piece can be further classified as an example of Nishapuri buff wares, a distinct group of wares unique to the region of Khurasan. They are characterised by the application of a fine ground slip and green and yellow – sometimes redbrick – decorative scheme outlined in purplish-black. Decoration may be either inanimate or animate. The latter are scarce and human depictions a rarity in the Islamic world but play a prominent role in Nishapur polychrome wares. This piece joins a small group of wares of particularly strong interest as nothing similar has been found anywhere else. They are like nothing that came before or would follow. The Seljuks in 11th century are known for figural representation but the physiognomy is quite different. Figural decoration would seem at odds with the iconoclastic strictures of Islam, however, the few extant examples do denote that the tradition was not completely unknown. An unglazed jar in the museum of Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan, with detailed painting in slip of a court scene dating to the Sassanian period, suggests both a prototype and existence of a pre-Islamic tradition later appropriated by Islamic artisans. The face in three-quarter profile is depicted in a similar convention to those of the Abbasid lustres of the same period. Sassanian models? A cultural memory could have preserved certain elements and there are indeed similarities with Sassanian silver dishes. The imagery on these bowls is thought to have derived from Sassanian metalwork. Two factors propel this bowl into an artistic class quite distinct from contemporaneous earthenwares but in Iran and empire at large. Not only does it herald from one of the main centres of high-class slipware production but also the human depiction is a great rarity. Humble material yet decoration propels bowl into a higher artistic class. Human figures are a great rarity and to find an example in such good condition is rather exceptional. Abstract designs also common. The reduction of the forms, both vegetal and human, displays a strong tendency for abstraction during this time. The bowl would have been thrown and turned on the wheel then fired before a white slip applied to mask the colour of the surface material. The decoration would then have been added before a transparent glaze applied. Influence across a vast area. The shape has been borrowed from Chinese wares. For other figurative examples cf., "Bowl with a figure and birds [Attributed to Iran, Nishapur]" (38.40.290) can be see at Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. art/38.40.290. (July 2011); Ceramics from Islamic Lands. Oliver Watson (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2004) P. 248 Cat.H.1 - (JB.1131)


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