Samanid, 10th century CE
Materials and technique
Ceramic; earthenware, white slip with black slip decoration under a transparent glaze
Height 19.8 cm
This vase is a fine example of ceramic wares produced in the workshops of Khurasan and Transoxiana during the ninth and tenth centuries, the period during which Samarqand, Nishapur, and Bukhara enjoyed economic and cultural prosperity under the Persian Samanid rulers (819-1005 CE) (Makariou 2007, p. 197, n. 1). The Samanids oversaw a wide variety of ceramic production. Epigraphic slipwares such as the one shown here have been ascribed to centres of production such as Nishapur and Afrasiyab (old Samarqand) and were for local consumption; they are not found in excavations west of central Iran or at Rayy. In this vase, a white slip formed from semi-fluid coloured clay was used to cover the ceramic body and create a blank surface on which the ornamental inscription could be written. Calligraphy, traditionally thought of as the highest form of Islamic art because of its power to transmit the word of God, provides the sole adornment for this vessel. Added to the sobriety and sophistication of the epigraphic ornament, the colour contrast heightens the beauty of this vase. Samanid artists excelled in the mastery of the void in an era when surface decoration on objects exhibited a wide variety of ornament (ibid., n. 7). Simple, functional wares were turned into stunning works of austere beauty meant for a distinguished clientele. The inscription on this vase is a typical pious aphorism addressed to the owner ("Blessings to its owner") and gives a glimpse into a genre of Arabic literature that does not survive in manuscript form from this period. The shape of the vase may derive from contemporary Iranian silverware.
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