Bowl with horseman with Leopard, 9th Century, Nishapur, Iran,
National Museum of Iran, Tehran

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Source: LA3M. LABORATOIRE D'ARCHÉOLOGIE MÉDIÉVALE ET MODERNE EN MÉDITERRANÉE. Iconographie des céramiques polychromes (rangârang) de Nishâpur
National Museum of Iran, Tehran. Glazed bowl depicting a warrior on horseback surrounded by animals and birds, from Nishapur, 9th century (pottery)
ID 1765



Referenced as figure 2.44 in Wilkinson, Charles K. Nishapur: Some Early Islamic Buildings and Their Decoration. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986. [pdf]
Glazed buff ware bowl from a low level of Tepe Madraseh, TI. Reddish buff body, bone-colored surface, design in black, yellow, and green on a yellow ground. Height 11.2. cm, diameter 38 cm. Muzé Iran Bastan, Teheran.



Referenced as figure 350 in The military technology of classical Islam by D Nicolle
350. Ceramic bowl, 10th century AD, Kurāsānī, Archaeological Museum, Tehran (Du R).



The bowl's discovery is described in “The Museum's Excavations at Nīshāpūr by Walter Hauser and Charles K. Wilkinson.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 37, no. 4, 1942, pp. 83–119. JSTOR



62 a,b BOWL

D 38, H 11.2 cm ; Tepe Madraseh

Reddish buff body, bone-colored surface. Base, slightly concave, has a groove forming a foot ring. Most of the interior surface is covered with yellow. The dominant feature is a man with drawn sword astride a horse, both portrayed in profile. The man has a flat-topped head and very wide forehead (compare 59). His eye is large. His brow is drawn with a thin single line that continues to the thick line that represents his beard and defines his jaw. Beneath his brow is a second line, a continuation of the eye itself. This striking feature, a surely unrelated parallel to an ancient Egyptian fashion of eye decoration, seems to occur for the first time in Iranian art in this Nishapur buff ware. The bottom of the man's cheek is indicated by a curving line, a device that contributes to the characteristic gauntness of the Nishapur faces (compare 64, 66). His hair, which ends in a projecting roll well above his shoulders, is adorned with flowerets in reserve, touched with color. Since similar flowerets appear on the horse's hooves, they are probably simply a decorative convention, not a representation of actual blossoms. A row of four spiral curls crosses the man's forehead. Like the flowerets, these were probably added purely for decorative purposes, not in conformity with reality. But these details are only the beginning of the potter's artistic license. The horseman's shirt, decorated with small crosses, has one sleeve deeply slit, its edges bound, as on 59. The other sleeve, bound at the cuff but not slit, is decorated in a wholly different manner, with large spots. The collar of the shirt is drawn in such a fashion that it appears to be rolled. The breeches, adorned with a pattern of squares, disappear into a black legging ornamented with a half-palmette in reserve. There is no connection between the legging, which is perhaps made of leather, and the shoe; the separation is emphasized, in fact, by the presence of a reserve border around the legging (compare 64, 71). Leg gear of this type, which seems to be represented in Nishapur only in the tenth-century buff ware, calls to mind the high boots seen in a painting among the both frescoes at Bazalik, Central Asia, in which they are worn by kneeling Tocharian merchants (Seyrig, Syria, XVIII, p. 12, pl. ii, lower). There is a suggestion in this painting that a cord was sometimes used to suspend such a boot from the wearer's belt. Leggings go back to Sasanian times, as is indicated by their appearance on a Sasanian bronze incense burner in the form of a horse and rider on which the legging is left plain and the foot is covered with spots (Pope, Survey, IV, pl. 240 A). The leggings also occur on a Sasanian silver plate (Smirnov, Argenterie orieniale pl. cxxi, no. 306). The excessively slender shoe of 62 (compare 59) is of a type found in seventh- and eighth-century paintings of horsemen in Pendzhikent (M. Bussagli, Painting of Central Asia, Geneva, 1963, pp. 44, 45). The ringlike stirrup of 62 is suspended from a strap ; the space between this strap and the legging is filled with the same crosses that appear on the rider's shirt, but since this is simply a space, the treatment points to the artist's preoccupation with putting small decorations everywhere, without relation to reality. The horseman's straight-bladed sword, a type known in the Sasanian period, has a hilt that terminates at either end in a large V-shape. This type of hilt was in use among the people who in earlier centuries ranged from the heart of Asia to the plains of Hungary (Fettich, Archaeologia Hungarica XV, pl. vii). Whether its indication on 62 reflects the presence of such weapons in Nishapur cannot be determined; its representation may be due simply to an iconographic tradition.
    The horse is quite as fantastic as the man. It is black except for its face and the decoration with which its body and legs are lavishly covered; these areas are in reserve, spotted with color. The horse's eye is treated like the rider's, two parallel lines continuing beyond it for a considerable distance. (This form of eye is also to be seen in some of the Nishapur ware decorated with yellow-staining black — for example, a piece mentioned on page 215.) The horse's tail is tied, a continuation of a Sasanian custom exemplified in a silver bowl of the time of Peroz I (457-483) in the Metropolitan (34.33). Other Sasanian bowls showing horses with tied tails (Pope, Survey IV, pls. 209-214) are in the Hermitage Museum, the Bibliotheque Nationale, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Freer Gallery of Art. The decorations on the horse's fore- and hindquarters consist of curling stems ending in palmettes. Two of these palmettes are enclosed in heart shapes. The curve of the stems is broken by little leaved excrescences similar in style to some in the Nishapur polychrome on white ware (Group 4, 56, 58). They also appear on Nishapur architectural elements : polychromed plaster squinch members found in Sabz Pushan (Hauser, Upton &: Wilkinson, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, November, 1938, p. 7, figs. 5, 6). These excrescences occur also in the glazed pottery of Merv (Lunina, Trudy XI, p. 234, fig, 9, p. 244, fig. 15). They are likewise to be seen on a bronze salver representing an arcaded building (Pope, Survey IV, pl. 237), a piece originally published as Sasanian but now considered by some to be of a later date.
    Poised on the horse's rump is an animal resembling a cheetah. Cheetahs were used in Iran for hunting, but the animal seen here apparently attends someone other than a hunter, for one does not hunt with a sword. Although the horsemen in this group from the Museum's excavations seem invariably to be carrying swords, bowls in other museums, almost certainly from Nishapur, depict polo players (Jakobsen, Islamische Keramik Exhibition Catalogue, fig. 3; Erdmann, Pantheon XVIII, p. 164). Polo was a favorite subject in later times, and representations of it are to be seen in both luster and minai ware of the Seljuq period.
    With crested head and “wing,” the animal on 62 looks supernatural. This interpretation is perhaps supported by the fact that other bowls have been found since 1940 on which the major element is a riderless horse with an even more fantastic animal placed above it. In some of these representations, as on 86, a fragment probably from the same workshop as 62, the animal appears with a beak and a leaflike tail. On one particular version the body is covered with scalelike forms. All these cheetahlike creatures may perhaps be considered survivors, in a debased form, of mythological animals depicted in Iranian art as far back as the first millennium B.C. These early animals are sometimes depicted with wings, sometimes with birdlike heads (A. Godard, Le Tresor de Ziwiye, Haarlem, 1950, fig. 21). In paintings of the seventh century a.d. a winged lionlike creature is represented (Iakubovski, Paintings of Ancient Pendzhikent p. 93, fig. 21).
    The ground of 62 is filled with horned animals, birds, and an assortment of ornamental motifs. As is customary, the animals and birds are represented as of the same size. This treatment seems to be an inheritance from the Sasanian period, for it occurs on a Sasanian seal portraying a hare and an ibex (Pope, Survey IV, pl. 256 D). (For a similar treatment in tenth-century monochrome luster ware, see Pézard, Céramique pl. cxxi.) Except for their heads and necks, which are in reserve, the animals and birds are painted black. As is the case on numerous other bowls, the necks of both are decorated with collars, those of the animals made chevronlike. One animal, seen just above the horse's raised foreleg, has a curled band in reserve descending from its collar. This happens to be a poor version of a decoration often seen on both animals and birds in this group (63, 64, 73, 79, 81, 83, 86, 88). It is probably present simply to break up the dark mass of the animal's body. The band is also to be seen on birds in two other wares (Group 3, 10; Group 6, 48). Another distinctive detail on 62 is the group of dots placed at the ears and tails of the animals. Here the groups are of four dots; on comparable pieces (63, 74) they are of three. This motif is also to be found on objects of earlier date, for example, on a post-Sasanian silver vessel, where it is used in conjunction with plants (Smirnov, Argenterie orientate pls. lxxv, lxxvi).
    The birds of 62, even less realistic than those of 59, have crests composed of three balls on short stems, suggesting that they may be peacocks. Their tails consist either of three parallel lines ending at different lengths in triangular forms (compare 79, 82) or, in one instance, of a large inverted pear shape or wing shape, the pointed tip of which is attached to the pointed tip of the body. This added shape, which seems not to be an integral part of the bird, is decorated with a palmette (compare 74, 76, 77). Birds with added tails of this shape but decorated instead with peacock eyes appear in the polychrome on white ware of Afrasiyab (Maysuradze, “Afrasiyab,” pl. xxiii, top, right), but the bodies and heads of the Afrasiyab birds are unlike those of Nishapur. Tails of somewhat similar shape, but drawn to suggest a wing, are to be seen on glazed earthenware bowls excavated at Merv (Lunina, Trudy XI, p. 249, fig. 17). This use of a pointed pear shape for a tail goes back to the portrayal of peacocks in the Sasanian period (Smirnov, Argenterie orientale pl. lxxii). Although the birds on the Nishapur bowls seem intended as peacocks, it should be noted that a monochrome luster bowl of the tenth century (Pope, Survey V, pl. 576 C) shows a ducklike bird with a tail of the same shape, painted solid.
    The subsidiary ornament of 62 ranges from the simple dot in circle motif to clusters of dotted circles with added projecting elements. Among these is a cluster of four, constructed from a figure eight with a semicircle added at the sides. This method of drawing the motif is evident whereever it occurs. Common in the animate buff ware, it is also found in the ware decorated with yellow-staining black (Group 8, 13). Spaced unevenly around the rim of 62 are four groups of boldly painted, meaningless Kufic letters, their bases at the rim, and repeated among the other motifs is a conventional form of the word barakeh (blessing) drawn on a thin base line. This word, so drawn, appears on many of the animate bowls (63, 74, 76, 79, 86).
    The decoration on the exterior (62b) consists of pointed vertical shapes composed of joined curved brackets alternating with vertical lines of herringbone. The pointed shapes are colored alternately green and yellow. The contrast between a complex, agitated design on the interior and a static, repetitious design on the exterior is typical of the animate group.
    Another bowl, 86, was doubtless made in the same workshop.

Source: pp. 20-22 in Nishapur: Pottery of the Early Islamic Period by Charles K. Wilkinson

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See also a Bowl with horseman, 9th-10th Century, Nishapur, Iran, Victoria and Albert Museum
Back to Bowls with figures from Nishapur, Kurasan, Iran, 9th-10th centuries, Saffarid-Samanid period
Other 9th Century Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers