Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.84
Title
Fragmentary Bowl with Seated Figure Holding a Beaker
Classification
Vessels
Work Type
vessel
Date
10th century
Places
Creation Place: Middle East, Iraq, Basra
Period
Abbasid period
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/165499
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Buff-colored earthenware painted with luster (silver and copper) over white lead alkali glaze opacified with tin
Technique
Lusterware
Dimensions
6.8 x 22.2 cm (2 11/16 x 8 3/4 in.)
Provenance
[Hadji Baba Rabbi Antiquities, London and Teheran, before 1992], sold; to Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (by 1992-2002), 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
2002.50.84
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
4

Fragmentary bowl with seated figure holding a beaker
Iraq, Basra, Abbasid period, 10th century
Buff-colored earthenware painted with luster (silver and copper) over white lead alkali glaze opacified with tin
6.8 × 22.2 cm (2 11/16 × 8 3/4 in.)
2002.50.84

Published: McWilliams, 2004, 11.

Luster painting is often cited as the greatest contribution of Islamic potters to the history of ceramics. This difficult and costly decorative technique, which requires two firings, appears to have originated in the late eighth or early ninth century in the Iraqi port town of Basra, where it flourished for some two centuries.[1] Abbasid lusterwares enjoyed immense success and prestige and have been found along trade routes from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Strait of Malacca.[2] The four monochrome luster bowls in the Calderwood Collection represent what is often considered the last phase of Basra luster production.[3] In the late tenth century, luster painting on ceramics spread outward from Iraq, with brilliant, albeit differing, manifestations in Egypt, Spain, and Italy to the west and Syria and Iran to the east.

Although slightly more than half plaster fill, this bowl retains the image of an arresting figure, probably female, with a riveting gaze.[4] She has long, wavy locks of hair and is adorned with earrings, a necklace, a decorated textile band (ṭirāz) on her arm, and an elaborately checkerboard-patterned lower garment.[5] Her seated position and the triangular beaker that she holds at chest level (in a six-fingered hand) suggest the princely pastime of wine drinking.

This bowl, unlike most lusterwares of the same phase, shows the figure isolated against a plain white ground. The glazed base bears a fragmentary, illegible inscription in Kufic script.

Mary McWilliams

[1] This discussion follows the developmental chronology proposed for luster ceramics in Mason 2004, 23–62 and 156–68.
[2] Hallett 2010, 76
[3] For a divergent opinion, see Philon 1980, 73.
[4]A very similar face appears on a monochrome luster fragment (Benaki Museum, Athens, 321) illustrated in Philon 1980, 159, fig. 356.
[5] A similar checkerboard pattern appears on a monochrome luster fragment, a bowl base (Benaki Museum, Athens, 324) illustrated in Philon 1980, 144, fig. 315.

Publication History

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), p. 172, cat. 4, ill.

Mary McWilliams and Jochen Sokoly, Social Fabrics: Inscribed Textiles from Medieval Egyptian Tombs, exh. cat. (Cambridge, MA, February 22, 2022), pp. 74-75, cat. 7

Exhibition History

Closely Focused, Intensely Felt: Selections from the Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/07/2004 - 01/02/2005

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

Social Fabrics: Inscribed Textiles from Medieval Egyptian Tombs, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/22/2022 - 05/08/2022

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