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Work Dish adorned with calligraphy

Department of Islamic Art: The caliphate period (8th-11th centuries)

Plat à décor calligraphique

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Hughes Dubois

Islamic Art
The caliphate period (8th-11th centuries)

Large dishes decorated with elegant calligraphy are characteristic of Central Asian ceramics; the inscribed sayings reflect a sophisticated society, steeped in Arabo-Islamic culture.

Wide-rimmed dishes such as this one, decorated with brownish-black calligraphy on a white ground, are among the artifacts representative of the Samanid dynasty (819-1005). Generally thought to have been made in the main production centers of Nishapur and Samarkand, they circulated throughout the regions of Khurasan and Transoxiana.

The painted decoration on a white ground seems to have been inspired by early Chinese porcelain, as was the case with Iraqi earthenware. The vertical calligraphic stems converge toward a small central motif evoking the Chinese yin and yang—another sign of this Asian influence. The dish in the Louvre is one of the finest examples of the many dishes and deep bowls with strictly epigraphic decoration.

The meticulous calligraphy and elegant, understated layout suggest that these inscriptions were the work of expert calligraphers. The inscription on this dish—a saying recommending good conduct—is written in Arabic, testifying to the spread of this language in a region whose original culture was Sogdian and Iranian. These elegant vessels, designed for a literate élite, may have served as conversation pieces during social gatherings.

Inscription:

“Magnanimity tastes bitter at first, but sweeter than honey in the end. Good health!”

Bibliography

Juvin C., « Plat à inscription monumentale », in Makariou S. (dir.), Les Arts de l’Islam au musée du Louvre, Paris, 2012

Ouellet L. et Bresc-Gautier G. (éd.), Les Arts et la vie : le Louvre à Québec, Cat. exp. Québec, 2008, n° 185, p. 160-162.

Ghouchani A., Inscriptions on Nishabur Pottery, Téhéran, 1986, pl. 59.

Technical description

  • Dish adorned with calligraphy

    Late 10th century

    Eastern Iran or Central Asia

  • Earthenware, underglaze, slip-painted

    H. 5.3 cm; Diam. 37.6 cm

  • Gift of A. Kann

    AA 96

  • Islamic Art

    Denon wing

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