The calligraphic decoration on this bowl reads "Planning before work protects you from regret; prosperity and peace," but the shortening, bending, and elongation of the letters has transformed the words into abstract motifs of tremendous power. With its monumental presence and the artful arrangement of its letters, in which vertical flourishes punctuate the horizontal flow of the words at rhythmic intervals, this bowl stands out among the many other inscribed ceramics of the same period.
Produced in northeastern Iran, in the province of Khurasan during the Samanid period, this large bowl with its high, flaring sides and bold, rhythmically spaced inscription in "new-style" script exemplifies the elegance and perfect harmony of the "black-on-white wares" unearthed in the cities of Nishapur and Samarqand. The most important contribution of Samanid potters was the invention and perfection of slip-painted ware. Clarity of design is achieved through the use of a white engobe (a thin wash of slip, or fluid clay, and pigment used as a ground) to cover the red earthenware, on which the inscription is painted in brownish pigment mixed with slip. By adding slip to the pigments, the potters prevented inscriptions and designs from running into one another.
Since this bowl was not among the objects unearthed in Nishapur at the time of the Metropolitan Museum excavations, its attribution is based entirely on visual analysis. It is a superb example of the most common type of black-on-white ware associated with that center. The style of the calligraphy, which is characterized by tall, slender vertical shafts and angular letters, is probably among the earliest versions of "new-style" script. Later adaptations of this script include floriated and plaited variations. The elegance and sophistication of the calligraphy demonstrate a particularly close kinship between calligrapher and potter.
By 875 the Samanids had established an autonomous state, controlling a vast and important area of the eastern Islamic world. In 900 they were granted the governorship of Khurasan by the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad. Although the Samanids often looked to their imperial past for inspiration, it is unlikely that this bowl was produced for a royal patron. In fact, the inscription suggests that it was probably made for a humbler individual. Inscriptions such as this one and others on similar vessels constitute the first extant examples of Arabic proverbs and adages to appear in the Islamic world. Many make reference to the social codes and high standards of moral etiquette held by the denizens of Samanid Nishapur at a time when hospitality and generosity were deeply valued. This particular saying belongs to the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad transmitted by ‘Ali. Aphoristic in nature, it advises the owner against harmful or impetuous actions and decisions.
Maryam Ekhtiar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Inscription: Arabic inscription in “new-style” script around the inner rim:
التدبیر قبل العمل یؤمنك من الندم الیمن والسلامه
Planning before work protects you from regret; good luck and well-being
[ E. Safani, New York, until 1965; sold to MMA]
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