Bowl with an Outdoor Group Scene

  • Iran, Kashan
  • Early 13th century
  • 13c
  • Fritware, brownish luster overglaze paint
  • H-14.9 D-35
Catalogue Entry

Persian lusterware is sometimes classified stylistically, according to its design, into three groups: the Reyy monumental style, the miniature painting style, and the Kashan style;1 or it is divided into three periods, according to changes in style.2 This bowl is one of the masterpieces of the later period, when Persian lusterware shook off the influences of Egypt and Syria--seen in works from the early periods--developed its own style, and matured.

In this unusual piece, twenty-five seated woman-like figures (the small figure might be a child), placed in three tiers, fill the entire bowl. A cypress reminiscent of the "tree of life" is in the center. Perched on a rock in the foreground, or perhaps hidden among the branches of the tree, is what might be a sacred bird, clearly quite different in size and shape from the other birds. As is often seen in lusterware and mina'i ware from Kashan, there is a pond at the foot of a tree, in which fish and waterfowl are swimming. In ancient Persian literature, fish and birds are often described as creatures belonging to heaven.

All eyes of the figures seem focused on the tree of life and the bird in it. Even the fish and birds in the lower area are oriented toward the tree. A key to interpreting the scene in this bowl might lie hidden here. Similar designs, but with only two figures, are found on in both vessels3 and tiles.4 The latter are similar to those decorating the Imamzade Ja'far mausoleum in Damghan. It is not easy to determine the nature of this gathering, which gives the impression of stillness, as if the twenty-five people were meditating. The gathering may be regarded as a religious congregation, perhaps related to Sufi mysticism or to the Shiite practice of gathering to recite poems to mourn the martyrdom of Husain at Karbala.

1. Watson 1985.
2. Morgan 1994.
3. A lusterware bowl in Okayama Orient Art Museum; two figures sit facing each other, with a cedar between them.
4. An Islamic tile is in the David Collection (Isl. 154).

Catalogue Entry

Bowl with an Outdoor Group Scene
Iran, early 13th century
Dia. 34.9cm
Miho Museum, Shiga
White glaze has been applied over a beige body clay, and designs have been created in luster paints. The bowl has a low foot, and diagonally expanding torso walls, with slight rounding near the mouth rim area. The mouth rim area is short and everted. The interior design features a single cedar-like tree in the center with thirteen figures on the left, twelve figures on the right, and two birds at the base of the tree. A bird is seated in the tree on a platform like seat. The areas above and below the scene are delineated by cords, and there are six fish and two birds shown below the lower cord. There is some restoration work visible near the two birds above the scene. The mouth rim area is flat, with an inscription scraped from the glaze in naskhl- style characters. The interior, beneath the mouth rim area, is circled by two bands of script. The bowl exterior is decorated with a large flower petal design that centers on the foot and includes the flower stamen, all painted in well-formed strokes.