Mesopotamia or Iran
13th century CE
Materials and technique
Cast white bronze, engraved decoration
Ø 55 cm
This exceptionally large, almost hemispherical bowl bears on its outer face an engraved decoration, split into three superimposed registers. The upper border displays an alternation of passing animals against a flourish backdrop and cursive script inscriptions. Below, a wider banner is marked out by the relief of a twisted ribbon which knits together circular medallions, filled with geometric patterns each different from the other. Between the medallions, epigraphic cartouches display an alternation of cursive and animated (that is, topped by human heads) kufic scripts. In addition, the downstrokes of the kufic inscriptions form interlacing bows. The lower register shows medallions containing the twelve signs of the zodiac. Between these medallions, the ribbon knits together small diamonds and complex bows from which seem to be escaping floweret-covered stems. The 12th and 13th century production of Iranian white bronzes is not linked to a specific centre. The examples preserved in Iran’s National Museum in Teheran were the subject of a fairly recent publication. Among them, a small bowl is reminiscent of this piece with its horizontal register decorations showing an epigraphic border over passing animals against a flourish backdrop and, more importantly, a wide central register with a very similar pattern of medallions containing the signs of the zodiac, separated by small diamonds from which coiled stems are escaping. Whilst the technique used to mat the background of the decorations is different from the one used on this bowl (small slanted lines instead of dots), the same bevelled engraving can be sharply distinguished on the inscriptions of both pieces. However, the signs of the zodiac are represented differently. Of particular significance here is the Capricorn, represented in its most ancient form: the goat fish, a feature rarely found on the many Khorasan astrological iconography metals, though related forms can be observed in Jezireh. It is also interesting to compare the decoration on our bowl with contemporary pieces from Khorasan (North east of Iran/Afghanistan): for instance, with a bucket with an inlaid decoration in the Keir collection, displaying the same type of circular medallions shaped by interwoven ribbons and containing the signs of the zodiac. In the interstices separating the medallions, the oval bows shaped by the ribbons are framed by identical symmetrical floweret-covered stems. On the upper register, the inscription in animated script reads: "al-'izz al-da’im al-iqbal al-za’id al-dawla al-baqiya al-salam al-'ali al-jidd al-baqiya al-salam al- 'ali al-dawla al-baqiya al-salam" (everlasting glory, growing prosperity, enduring wealth, ultimate peace, sustained fortune, perfect peace, enduring wealth, peace). On the middle register, in cursive script: "al-'izz al-da’im al-iqbal al-za’id al-dawla al-baqiya al-salam" (everlasting glory, growing prosperity, enduring wealth, peace). On the middle register, in kufic script: "al-'izz al-da’im al-umr al-salim wa’l-iqbal al-za’id" (everlasting glory, long life and growing prosperity).
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