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Tan bowl with dark blue flower in center and blue spots around edges

This round, shallow bowl is covered with a light tan glaze. The glaze has patches that are slightly lighter and darker shades of tan, and its texture is crazed (crackled). In the center of the bowl is a large, shiny, dark blue floral shape with ten asymmetric “petals.” Five oblong spots of the same blue color are evenly spaced around the curved rim of the bowl.

Gallery Text

Probably the costliest products of the Basra kilns, luster wares were widely exported and imitated. Knowledge of the luster technique gradually spread westward to Syria, Egypt, and Spain, and eastward into Iran. Early luster designs were typically bold and loosely painted, covering most of the vessel. Auspicious inscriptions or symbols were particularly popular. The creatures rendered here — a wide-eyed rooster and a fish — have long carried positive associations: as the harbinger of dawn, the rooster symbolizes hope, while the fish suggests bounty.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Blue and white Abbassid bowl from Basra
Work Type
9th century
Creation Place: Middle East, Iraq, Basra
Abbasid period
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2550, Art from Islamic Lands, The Middle East and North Africa
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Physical Descriptions

Earthenware with overglaze painting
Estimated H: 5 x Diam: 21.5 cm (2 x 8 1/2 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Elizabeth S. Ettinghausen, Princeton, NJ, (by 2006), gift; to Harvard University Art Museums, 2006.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Elizabeth S. Ettinghausen in memory of Richard Ettinghausen and in honor of Mary A. McWilliams
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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In shape, this is a shallow bowl with outward curving rim and a short foot. The buff-colored clay fabric is hidden by a coating of lead-fluxed, tin glaze that opacifies white upon firing. The decoration, in a rich, deep cobalt, consists of an irregular rosette with ten petals in the center and five scallops on the outward curving rim.
Label text from exhibition “Re-View,” an overview of objects drawn from the collections of Harvard Art Museums, 26 April 2008 – 1 July 2013; label text written by Mary McWilliams, Norma Jean Calderwood Curator of Islamic and Later Indian Art, Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art:

Bowl Decorated with Blue Flower and Scallops
Iraq, Basra, `Abbasid dynasty, early 9th century
Earthenware with cobalt painted over glaze
Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Elizabeth S. Ettinghausen in memory of Richard Ettinghausen and in honor of Mary A. McWilliams, 2006.207

Ceramics decorated with cobalt blue on a white ground were first produced—albeit briefly—by potters working during the Tang dynasty (618–907) in China and for the `Abbasid dynasty centered in Iraq. The blue-and-white combination inspired one of the longest-running and most influential ceramic dia¬logues between eastern and western Asia. There is at present a lively disagreement among scholars as to which culture should be credited with its invention.

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
  • Stephan Wolohojian and Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, ed. Stephan Wolohojian, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, 2008), p. 37

Exhibition History

  • Overlapping Realms: Arts of the Islamic World and India, 900-1900, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 12/02/2006 - 03/23/2008
  • Re-View: Arts of India & the Islamic Lands, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/26/2008 - 06/01/2013
  • 32Q: 2550 Islamic, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Verification Level

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