Bowl with Inscription and Birds

Unidentified Artist10th century

Harvard Art Museums

Harvard Art Museums
Cambridge, United States

Although painted with apparent dash, the colorful decoration of this bowl is carefully composed. The design is laid out in three registers: an Arabic word meaning “harmony” occupies the middle, and above and below it are long-necked birds with outstretched wings. Like the beginning and end letters of the inscription, the birds’ heads and leaf-like wingtips terminate at the red circular boundary. Freely painted running crescents and a black line enclose the lively composition. Combining Arabic script with birds became popular among potters in the early Islamic era. On this bowl, where inscription and birds are equally stylized and animated, the decorative formula has proved especially felicitous. Most of the black decoration on the bowl is painted in a relatively inert black slip. By contrast, the contour panels are dotted with a black pigment containing chromite, which stains the surrounding glaze light yellow. To date, ceramic vessels with yellow-staining black have been excavated only in Nishapur. The outside of the bowl is undecorated except for the white slip and clear glaze, which has a slight iridescence. The flat base is lightly covered in the slip and partially glazed.


  • Title: Bowl with Inscription and Birds
  • Creator: Unidentified Artist
  • Date: 10th century
  • Technique: Underglazed, painted
  • Physical Dimensions: w18.8 x h5.8 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), red (iron), and yellow-staining black (chromium) under clear lead glaze

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