Bowl Inscribed with a Saying of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib

Unidentified Artist10th century

Harvard Art Museums

Harvard Art Museums
Cambridge, United States

Written around the rim of this bowl in a “new style” Kufic, with ascenders deflected abruptly to the left, is an epigram in Arabic attributed to Ali ibn Abi Talib, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, praising knowledge and manly virtue: “Knowledge is the noblest of personal qualities, and love is the highest of pedigrees”. Pear-shaped ornament rising out of the last letter of the last word marks the end of the inscription. Written across the center is a single Arabic word, ahmad, which appears frequently on Samanid epigraphic bowls. In this context it is usually construed not as the signature of a potter but as a blessing: “most praiseworthy.” Proverbs praising knowledge and exhorting the owner to various forms of virtuous conduct appear frequently on these elegantly inscribed epigraphic wares, suggesting that they were appreciated by a class of users who placed high value on learning and ethical behavior. On the interior and exterior of this well-potted bowl, the entire pinkish-buff ceramic body, including the beveled, slightly concave base, has been covered in white slip and clear glaze. The vessel is fragmentary; the last word of the inscription has been partially reconstructed on a plaster fill.


  • Title: Bowl Inscribed with a Saying of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib
  • Creator: Unidentified Artist
  • Creator Lifespan: 1/1
  • Date: 10th century
  • Technique: Underglazed, painted
  • Physical Dimensions: h6.1 x d21.5 cm
  • Period: Samanid period
  • Credit Line: Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
  • Creation Place: Nishapur/Iran/Middle East
  • Type: Vessels
  • External Link: Harvard Art Museums
  • Medium: Reddish earthenware covered in white slip and painted with black (manganese and iron) under clear lead glaze

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