Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.52
Title
Bowl with Harpies
Classification
Vessels
Work Type
vessel
Date
late 12th-early 13th century
Places
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran, Kashan
Period
Seljuk-Atabeg period
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/165473
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Fritware painted with black (chromium), turquoise (copper), blue (cobalt), brownish-red (iron), and pink (iron and tin) over white lead alkali glaze opacified with tin, and gilded.
Dimensions
7 x 16 cm (2 3/4 x 6 5/16 in.)
Provenance
[Sotheby's London, April 1975], sold; through [Mansour Gallery, London, 1975]; to Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (1975-2002), gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2002.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
Accession Year
2002
Object Number
2002.50.52
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
In the center of this bowl two harpies (composite bird-women) are turned toward each other, their tail feathers joining overhead in an ogival arch. In Islamic lands these mythical creatures were associated astrologically with the planet Mercury and were considered generally auspicious. Foliate arabesques sprout from the harpies’ joined tails and fill the space below their feet. Encircling the bowl on the exterior is a single band of cursive script; it contains four hemistichs of medieval Persian poetry, which read,

Beware, O friend, things have gotten out of hand. In knowing you [my] days have been lost.
I had silver and gold, patience and sobriety.
In the grief inflicted by you all four have been lost.

The bowl has been reassembled from fragments with only minor losses and overpainting.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
26

Bowl with harpies
Iran, Seljuk-Atabeg period, late 12th–early 13th century[1]
Fritware painted with black (chromium), turquoise (copper), blue (cobalt), brownish-red (iron), and pink (iron and tin) over white lead alkali glaze opacified with tin
7 × 16 cm (2 3/4 × 6 5/16 in.)
2002.50.52

Mīnāʾī, meaning “enameled,” is a Persian word commonly used to designate wares decorated in a polychrome overglaze technique. Like luster painting, mīnāʾī is a costly process that requires a second firing. Seljuk- Atabeg period mīnāʾī wares are tentatively attributed to the city of Kashan, in central Iran.[2] In the center of this bowl two harpies (composite bird-women) are turned toward each other, their tail feathers joining overhead in an ogival arch. In Islamic lands these mythical creatures were associated astrologically with the planet Mercury and were considered generally auspicious. Foliate arabesques sprout from the harpies’ joined tails and fill the space below their feet. Encircling the bowl on the exterior is a single band of cursive script; it contains four hemistichs of medieval Persian poetry, which read,

Beware, O friend, things have gotten out of hand.
In knowing you [my] days have been lost.
I had silver and gold, patience and sobriety.
In the grief inflicted by you all four have been lost.

(Zēnhār ay yār kār az dast shudh
dar ʿilm-i tu rōzgār az dast shudh.
Sēm zar būdhī marā u ṣabr u hōsh
dar ghamm-i tu har chahār az dast shudh.)[3]

The bowl has been reassembled from fragments with only minor losses and overpainting.

Ayşin Yoltar-Yıldırım

[1] The bowl was last fired between 600 and 1000 years ago, according to the results of thermoluminescence analysis carried out by Oxford Authentication Ltd. in 2002.
[2] See Watson 1985, 84; Mason 2004, 131.
[3] We are grateful to Wheeler M. Thackston for this reading and transliteration.

Publication History

Jessica Chloros, "An Investigation of Cobalt Pigment on Islamic Ceramics at the Harvard Art Museums" (thesis (certificate in conservation), Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, 2008), Unpublished, pp. 1-41 passim

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), p. 186-187, cat. 26, ill.

Exhibition History

In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2013 - 06/01/2013

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu