London, England, United Kingdom
Victoria and Albert Museum
About hegira 427–87/ AD 1035–94
Painted glazed ceramic.
Height 9.8 cm, diameter 22.1 cm
Probably Cairo, Egypt.
A bowl on a high foot-ring, painted in lustre on a white clay slip. The interior is decorated with a bold design of a robed and hooded figure, traditionally thought to be a Coptic priest, carrying a lamp or censer. Beside him stands an object often thought to be a cypress tree, but sometimes interpreted as an ankh or ‘key of life’ cross, an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic sign which the Copts adapted for Christian use. The priest’s robe, his lamp, and the tree are all decorated with thin white lines scratched through the lustre to create spirals and other motifs. On the outside of the bowl, the word ‘Sa‘d’’ is written twice in kufic script. Oddly, the word is written in reverse, i.e. beginning with the last letter. It is unclear whether the word is a blessing (‘good luck, good fortune’) or whether it is the name of a particular craftsman or workshop. It appears on a group of similar Fatimid ceramics over a number of decades during the reign of the Caliph al-Mustansir (AH 427–87 / AD 1035–94).View Short Description
A footed bowl painted in lustre with a picture of a robed and hooded figure holding a lamp or censer. He is a Coptic Christian priest, and his presence on such a fine object suggests the importance of this community in Fatimid Egypt.
This bowl belongs to a group of objects which all have the word ‘Sa‘d’ painted on them. These have been assigned to the reign of the Fatimid Caliph al-Mustansir based on comparisons with other media such as textiles.
In 1910 the art collector Dikran Garabed Kelekian placed his collection of Islamic ceramics on loan to the V&A. Fifteen of the finest pieces, including this bowl, were purchased by the Museum (with the assistance of the National Art Collections Fund) after Kelekian’s death.
Cairo was the Fatimid capital and thus the likeliest place that an object of such quality would have been made.
Caiger-Smith, A., Tin-Glaze Pottery in Europe and the Islamic World, London, 1973, p.37 and plate B.
Contadini, A., Fatimid Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1998, p.86.
Jenkins, M. "Sa‘d: Content and Context," Content and Context of the Visual Arts in the Islamic World (ed. P. Soucek), Pennsylvania and London, 1988, pp.67–75 and fig. 6.
Soustiel, J., La céramique islamique, Fribourg, 1985, p.133 no. 148.
Stanley, T., with Rosser-Owen, M. and Vernoit, S., Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Middle East, London, 2004, pp.118–22.
Barry Wood "Bowl" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus02;3;en
Prepared by: Barry WoodBarry Wood
Barry Wood is Curator (Islamic Gallery Project) in the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He studied history of art at Johns Hopkins University and history of Islamic art and architecture at Harvard University, from where he obtained his Ph.D. in 2002. He has taught at Harvard, Eastern Mediterranean University, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the Courtauld Institute of Art. He has also worked at the Harvard University Art Museums and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. He has published on topics ranging from Persian manuscripts to the history of exhibitions.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: UK2 03