10th century CE
Height 12.7 cms; Ø 34.3 cms
This bowl is a fine example of the pieces produced by workshops in Khurasan and Transoxiana in the ninth and tenth centuries, a period when Samarqand, Nishapur and Bukhara, under the rule of the Samanid governors, were prosperous economic and cultural centres. Decorative inscriptions, on ceramics in particular, underwent a transformation during this time. The magnificent inscriptions are written on a slip-coated base which is then covered by a brilliant glaze. With their distinctively pure white background - varied only by a combination of dark brown and red - these pieces were made for a cultured clientele. Spread across the wide rim of the dish, as if on a sheet of parchment, the elegant script flows effortlessly, as though produced by a qalam (calligraphy pen). The inscription is an Arabic proverb: “al-jud min akhlaq ahl al-janna. Al-sala [ma]” (“Generosity is a disposition of the dwellers of paradise. Good health”). The calligraphy exhibits unusual features: the word al-salama is truncated, the two last letters, mim and ta’ marbuta, have disappeared, almost as if the calligrapher had run out of space. By contrast, three letters - the letter jim of al-janna [and] al-jud, and the kha of akhlaq - are extended disproportionately towards the right, and finely engraved in places as if to highlight their unconventional form. This might lead us to suspect that the absence of the two final letters in the word salama is in fact an aesthetic choice - an error of this kind seems unlikely. The circular inscription here is balanced by a dot that serves as a pivot for the composition. A verb in the imperative form, written in red, appears four times on the surface of the dish; two readings are possible: “tujza” (“be rewarded”), or “taharra” (“seek”). Two oval dots, with lightly hollowed centres, flank the word al-salama. They highlight the beginning and end of the inscription, guiding the reader. This rigorous and balanced composition, along with the refinement of the colour scheme, give the piece as a whole its light and elegant character.
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