Bowl with Horsemen Circling Arabesque

  • Iran
  • Saljuq period
  • 13c
  • Fritware, polychromy and gold overglaze paint
  • H-11.4 D-21
Catalogue Entry

In mina'i pottery there are two main types of decoration: figural iconographic designs, and palmettes and arabesques. This bowl combines the two, with arabesques filling a medallion surrounded by a procession of eleven horsemen. A six-petaled flower is in the center, from which a pale gray ribbon branches outward as though to provide the ground color; contrasting with this are radiating palmette leaves in turquoise, and both entwine Chinese knots of eternity. To add a bit of color, numerous round red dots, representing either flowers or red berries, are scattered here and there on the palmettes. On the whole, the composition is quite tight, and a red line encircles the medallion to create a clear delineation between it and the horsemen.

It is difficult to tell if the horsemen are troops on review or are out for a hunt with hawks. A solitary standing figure, apparently a point of reference, seems to be leading the horsemen in a counterclockwise direction. There may be a special reason for the standing figure, as the same pattern is found in other processions.1 It is not clear whether the twelve long-tailed birds are placed between the horsemen simply to fill the empty space, or whether they have to do with hawking. The sense of the movement of racing horsemen is not only conveyed by the posture of the horses, it is also helped along by alternately changing the garments on the figures and the color of the horses.

On the inner rim of the bowl, there are squarish Kufic pseudo-calligraphic characters, while on the outer side is an inscription in fully curved Naskhi style. Below that, a simplified palmette pattern in red contrasts with the black of the inscription. A bowl a with central arabesque design encircled by a similar procession of six horsemen can be found in the Archaeological Museum in Tehran.2

1. Enthroned figure in the center of a bowl, surrounded by eleven horsemen in counterclockwise procession, on an overglazed painted bowl, in the Freer Art Gallery; see Atil l973, pl. 35.
2. Sugimura 1980, pl. 77.