Mina'i Ware Bowl, Iran, late 12th-early 13th century. Stonepaste body painted underglaze and over glaze with enamel
"This eight-lobed bowl harmoniously combines, figural, abstract, and calligraphic designs and is typical of some of the finest medieval Persian ceramics. The bowl is decorated with enamel paint, and a princely figure on a large and powerful elephant dominates the center. A band of kufic inscription offering blessings and good wishes surrounds him. The exterior inscription celebrates the qualities of a certain Abu Nasr Kirmanshah, the patron of this finely decorated bowl."
I spotted this Mina'i ware bowl during a trip to the Smithsonian's Freer Sackler Gallery in 2006. It is part of their permanent Arts of the Islamic World collection. I've been making lobbed bowls for years but I have yet to reach this level of 2d/3d harmony. The contracting point of each lobe is the springboard for the triangular structural decoration. It frames the figures that surround the rim. This triangle also leads down to a circular border that frames a central figure riding an elephant. The design scheme is complicated but orderly. It is a great lesson in dividing space on a bowl form.
One aspect of these pots that is missed in books is the relationship between interior and exterior. The density of the interior is balanced by the sparse decoration of the exterior. This one has a kufic inscription circling the bowls rim. Kufic script is one of the successful historic examples of incorporating text into pots. The script is so gestural that it often reads as a visual rhythm. Mark Shapiro is referencing the same ideas with his script based marks.
The Pot of the Day series features art that I encounter on my visits to museums. This pot is from the Smithsonian's Freer Sackler gallery, which offers multiple collections including Arts of the Islamic World. For the museum website please click here.