Brief Identification Edit

The Islamic ceramic bowl with brown, yellow and green decoration, was excavated in 1937 at Sabz Pushan in Nishapur, Iran.[1] The bowl is a part of a collection of intricately and diversely designed ceramics unique to this part of Iran that reflects the art and pottery produced throughout 10th century Iran.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, located in New York City, re-treated the discovered objects, including this bowl, and currently have the bowl on display. The bowl represents the artistic traditions within the region and its discovery provides a source to an art form that connects with many other cities, such Herat, Merv and Samarqand as well as societies such as 9th and 10th century Iraq and Tang China [See: Ekhtiar, 181].  

Technical Evaluation Edit

The bowl’s form originated from the Tang Dynasty (618-906 CE) in China and migrated to Nishapur and other areas within the Khorasan province through the Silk road trade routes. The bowl was created using a lead-glazing “sgraffito” technique, which was adapted by Irani artists in the 10th century. This technique allows the artisan to scratch the designs they wanted onto the bowl [See Lane 1947, 12]. The Earthenware bowls, which were created from diluted clay, were designed with white-slip incisions into the polychromatic glaze and then finalized with a transparent glaze. 

The artisans would use a white slip and glaze to then scratch off the unwanted layers of glaze to design the bowls. The designs shown on this bowl were unique to Irani pottery and the region. After the potters scratched off the unwanted glaze, the bowl would be covered in glaze and then subsequently fired up to create a similar composition and texture to glass. The running colors in the glaze were due to the fact that the attempts to paint the bowls were foiled when the paint would run with the glaze. [See Lane 1947, 12].

The early pottery, however, does not feature any human figures inscribed into the bowls. The designs are primarily abstract and even when animals and birds appear, they are extremely stylized [See Lane 1953, 12]. 

The bowl found in Nishapur imitates the splashware techniques that originated in Tang China and solidifies the connection between Tang and Nishapur. The bowls, however, are unique due to their blatant disregard for the use of correlating or matching colors and designs, which the Chinese prioritize in their pottery. This shows that the Islamic admiration of Tang splashware pottery created an artisanship within the Khorasan province [See Grube 1976, 86].

The bowl was discovered on an America expedition conducted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1937. Alongside hundred of other objects, the MET excavated the bowl in Nishapur, Iran after finding a room kept in relatively good condition, which suggested it was a governors from the ninth century. The bowl and the other objects were shipped back to the MET where they are on display.[2] 

Local Historic Context Edit

This form of Islamic pottery emerged in the late ninth and early tenth century, mixing art influences from the Far East and the local Islamic artistic traditions. During this time period, the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258 CE) ruled the region after conquering the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750 CE). The Abbasid ruled over multiple territories around the Islamic world through a centralized form of government that allowed the virtual independence of areas within the empire. The territory that contained Nishapur and other artistic and trading centers was Khorasan, which remained essentially independent under the Saffarid (c. 866-900 CE) and then the Samanid (c. 900-999 CE) dynasties. 

The Samanid dynasty was founded by Saman-Khoda and after years of loyalty, the Abbasid Caliph rewarded Saman-Khoda's grandsons with four territories. One of the grandson’s son, Ismāʿīl I (r. 892-907), conquered the Saffarid dynasty in Khorasan, in which Nishapur and other cultural cities on the Silk Road were located. Under the Samanid Dynasty, commerce, production and culture flourished throughout Khorasan. The production of pottery became an important aspect of Islamic art, combining the elements attained from splashware brought to Nishapur from Tang China and local Sasannian influences that resulted in the unique splashware, slip painting pottery. 

The popularity of these Earthenware ceramics skyrocketed due to the Islamic Traditions of the prophet that forbade the use of either gold or silver vessels. The Abbasid court quickly realized that these ceramics could be prosperous to the Caliphate's domain and encouraged the production and proliferation of this form of pottery [See Lane 1947, 10]. 

The pottery produced in Nishapur, the capital of Khorasan and the cultural center of the province, traveled to other cities within the territory and spearheaded the expanding demand for splashware or sgraffito ceramics. Alongside the artistic achievements, Nishapur also exceeded in its agricultural, commercial and economic sectors, facilitating it as a prosperous center of the Islamic World and an important city along the Silk Road.[3]The ceramics distinctive to Nishapur have been found across the region in other important cities in Khorasan and other provinces in the Islamic world. [4]

World Historic Context Edit

The bowl represents the artistic culmination of multiple cultural centers during this era and symobolizes the importance of the Silk Road in cultural migration. The bowl itself reflects the distinct form of pottery that manifested in Nishapur and the surrounding province while also providing a tangible center for multiple colliding cultures, Islamic and Chinese. The splashware technique, which originated from the Chinese, became extremely popular in the region, influencing the Samanid Dynasty to condone the production and specialization of the slip-painted pottery. The pseudo-Chinese sgraffito pottery suddenly exploded in the region, centering around the trading capital of Khorasan, Nishapur [See Lane 1947, 12]. 

The bowl’s style also appropriated Iraqi glazing techniques that influenced many of the designs of this form of pottery [See Jenkins 1983, 11]. The bowl itself mixes the glazing technique, the distinctive Irani artwork and the borrowed sgraffito technique of the Tang Chinese to create a unique form of pottery. The demand for these ceramics surged under the Abbasid Empire due to the fact that the religious and ideological law tightened with their rise whereas the preceding Umayyad Caliphate did not heavily control the religious restrictions on gold and silver vessels. This led to Islamic craftsmen’s exploitation of these technique alongside their own adaptations, which resulted in the exportation of the ceramics through the Silk Road [See Lane 1943, 11].

Bibliography Edit

Ekhtiar, Maryam and Claire Moore, edit. Art of the Islamic World: A Resource for Educators. New York City: The Metropolitan Museum for Art, 2012. 

Grube, Ernst J. Islamic Pottery of the Eighth to the Fifteenth Century in the Keir Collection. London. Faber and Faber Limited, 1976.

Jenkins, Marilyn. Islamic Pottery: A Brief History: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 40, no. 4 The Metropolitan Museum for Art, 1983.

Lane, Arthur. Early Islamic Pottery: Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1947

Lane, Arthur. Islamic Pottery: From the Ninth to the Fourteenth Centuries A.D. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1953.

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Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Sasanian Empire,"

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Metropolitan Museum of Art, “The Metropolitan Museum’s Excavations at Nishapur,”

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