Bowl Inscribed with Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and 'Ali ibn Abi Talib

Unidentified Artist10th century

Harvard Art Museums

Harvard Art Museums
Cambridge, United States

With its pure white slip, precise calligraphy, and perfectly clear glaze, this deep-walled bowl embodies the finest qualities of Samanid epigraphic wares. Most surviving examples of this class of ceramics reproduce benedictory phrases or popular proverbs. More rarely, as here they record sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions. Beginning in his own lifetime, Muhammad’s example was considered an important guide for how people should conduct their lives. In the early centuries of the Islamic era, sayings attributed to and anecdotes about him were collected and analyzed by numerous authors. The large andcomplex body of literature that resulted from this immense effort is known as hadith. The outer inscription on this bowl is written in black slip and records a saying attributed to the Prophet: “Modesty is a branch of faith, and faith is in paradise”. The inner inscription, in red slip, contains a similar dictum credited to 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s son-in-law and the fourth orthodox Caliph of Islam: “Greed is a sign of poverty”. Because each inscription is written in a ring, the calligrapher inserted a single-word invocation to mark the beginning: in the outer circle, “felicity”, and in the inner one, “health”. This bowl has been reassembled from about fifteen fragments, with only minimal losses. The white slip and clear glaze completely cover the vessel, including its flat, slightly concave base.


  • Title: Bowl Inscribed with Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and 'Ali ibn Abi Talib
  • Creator: Unidentified Artist
  • Date: 10th century
  • Technique: Underglazed, painted
  • Physical Dimensions: h9.6 x d26.9 cm
  • Period: Samanid period
  • Credit Line: Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
  • Creation Place: Samarkand/Uzbekistan/Central Asia
  • Type: Vessels
  • External Link: Harvard Art Museums
  • Medium: Reddish earthenware covered in white slip and painted with black (manganese and iron) and red (iron) under clear lead glaze

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