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Lesson Plan: Daily Life in Medieval Nishapur

A ceramic bowl with a white ground and decorated with green, yellow, and red dripping glaze

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Bowl with green, yellow, and brown splashed decoration
10th century
Iran, probably Nishapur
Earthenware; white slip incised and splashed with polychrome glazes under a transparent glaze (sgraffito ware); H. 2 7/8 in. (7.3 cm); Diam. 10 1/4 in. (26 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1938 (38.40.137)

Collection Area: Islamic Art
Subject Areas: Visual Arts, World History
Grades: Middle School, High School
Topic/Theme: Art as a Primary Resource


Students will be able to:
  • recognize ways works of art reflect medieval Nishapur's status as an important center of trade;
  • use visual evidence to support inferences; and
  • apply an original two-dimensional design to a three-dimensional form (in alternative activity).

National Learning Standards

Visual Arts
NA-VA.K-12.2 Using Knowledge of Structures and Functions
NA-VA.K-12.4 Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures
NA-VA.K-12.5 Reflecting Upon and Assessing the Characteristics and Merits of Their Work and the Work of Others
NA-VA.K-12.6 Making Connections between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines

World History
NSS-WH.5-12.4 Era 4: Expanding Zones of Exchange and Encounter, 300–1000 c.e.

Common Core State Standard

English Language Arts
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Questions for Viewing

  • Look closely at the glaze that colors the surface. How might you describe this style of glazing to someone who had never seen it? How might an artist achieve this effect?
  • Turn your attention to the lines incised in the bowl; observe the rim and work your way to the center. What do you notice? What might have inspired these forms?
  • What are some ways the artist has used the incised decoration to complement or emphasize the form of the bowl?


Activity Setting: Classroom
Materials: Pencil, paper, map of the Silk Road (PDF), and images of the featured work of art and three related objects. For the alternate activity, you will also need one recycled (or inexpensive) household object such as a heavy paper cup, bowl, or plate for each student, as well as paint, a container for water, and brushes of varying size or colored pencils and markers.
Subject Areas: Visual Arts, World History
Duration: Approximately 40 minutes

Compare and contrast this featured work of art with the ewer (fig. 39; see Objects in the Museum's Collection Related to this Lesson). Note similarities and differences in the coloring, decoration, and use of materials. While the featured work likely comes from Nishapur, where excavations have uncovered many bowls of this kind, the ewer comes from China. What might your observations suggest about ties between Nishapur (Iran) and China?

Print images of all the related objects included in the lesson. Note when and where each object was created and organize the images in chronological order. What stands out as you look at them in sequence? Consider the various locations in which they were produced (and found). How does this information challenge, support, or expand your initial inferences about connections between Nishapur and other regions? Why?

What are some ways regions may have shared or exchanged goods or ideas during this time period? [See map of the Silk Road (PDF).] See Objects in the Museum's Collection Related to this Lesson to learn more about the featured work of art, and each related object, and ways in which goods and ideas circulated among Nishapur (Iran), Iraq, and China. Consider how, if at all, innovations in technology had an impact on the ways in which communities around the world share goods and ideas today.

Key Points: Splashware originated in China. Splashwares emulating Chinese pottery were first produced in Iraq during the Abbasid reign (750–1258). Both Chinese and Iraqi splashwares likely influenced artists in Iran.

Alternate Activity

Subject Area: Visual Arts
Duration: Approximately 90 minutes

Closely observe the relationship between the shape of this bowl and the surface design. Note how the netlike pattern in a circular frame accentuates the flat base, the slightly rounded walls create an illusion of volume, and the curvaceous floral motifs that decorate the interior wrap around the form.

Try creating a surface design for a three-dimensional object that complements or emphasizes its form:

  1. Select a recycled or inexpensive household object to decorate (for example, a paper bowl, coffee can, milk jug).
  2. If the surface is already decorated, paint it white (or another neutral color) to create a solid ground.
  3. Note the various planes of the object (i.e., the base, lip, rim, walls) and sketch several possible designs for each. As you consider the options, reflect on ways each selection will reinforce or complement the shape of the object.
  4. Transfer the designs you selected onto the object using a pencil.
  5. Share your work and preparatory sketches with a peer. Discuss aspects of the design you feel are most and least successful (and why).
  6. Observe the works produced by the rest of your class. Identify one or more strategies that might strengthen an aspect of your design. Revise your work as needed; a quick coat of paint over areas you would like to revisit will create a fresh ground if you have trouble removing your pencil markings.
  7. Once you have finalized the design, add color (using colored pencils, markers, or paint) as desired.


American Museum of Natural History. Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World. Online educator's guide. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 2009.

Ekhtiar, Maryam D., and Claire Moore, eds. Art of the Islamic World: A Resource for Educators. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012.

Sardar, Marika. "The Metropolitan Museum's Excavations at Nishapur." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

Objects in the Museum's Collection Related to this Lesson

Tang dynasty (618–906), late 7th century
Earthenware with three-color (sancai ) glaze; H. 11 1/8 in. (28.3 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Stanley Herzman, in memory of Gladys Herzman, 1997 (1997.1.2)

Fragment of an imported Chinese bowl
Late 7th–first half of the 8th century
China; found in Nishapur, Iran
Earthenware; applied relief medallion under three-color (sancai) glaze; Diam. 2 5/8 in. (6.7 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1938 (38.40.274)

Bowl with green splashes
9th century
Iraq, probably Basra
Earthenware; "splash-painted" on opaque white glaze; H. 5/16 in. (.8 cm), Diam. 11 1/8 in. (28.3 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of V. Everit Macy, 1930 (30.112.46)

Author: Claire Moore, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Date: 2012

Dado panel

After reading Unit Six, Chapter One, you will be able to identify how artifacts excavated in the medieval city of Nishapur (in present-day Iran) provide insight into the customs, activities, and environment of its residents.