Exhibitions: Arts of the Islamic World

Bowl (Enthronement Scene)

Some of the earliest scenes of the princely cycle appear in Iranian ceramics of the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries before the Mongol invasion, when much of Iran, Central Asia, and Anatolia fell under Seljuq control. The Seljuqs were a Turkic dynasty and followers of the Sunni branch of Islam. Foreigners to Iran and its culture, their rulers sought legitimacy by naming themselves after the legendary Iranian kings lauded in the national epic, the Shāhnāma, and by patronizing art and architectural commissions that celebrated kingship and authority. Although few illustrated manuscripts remain from this period, a great number of surviving ceramic wares reveal aspects of courtly life under the Seljuqs, including the one on view. Such minā'ī (enamel) or haft rangi (seven-color) wares comprised some of the earliest examples of polychrome ceramics and represent an expensive and labor-intensive process passed down from one generation of potters to the next. This bowl would have been painted in turquoise, blue, and purple on an opaque white glaze after a first firing; the enamel pigments including black and red, were then added, as well as leaf gilding, and the object would have gone through a second firing at a lower temperature to produce the final product. Kashan has been identified as the main city minā'ī wares were made, although it was probably not the only production site for such pottery.

The scene on this bowl is particularly interesting as it is currently the only known enthronement scene that includes children. This is suggested not only by the smaller size of the three figures to the right of the cypress tree, but by a female attendant, possibly the mother, who has one hand behind her child's shoulder while holding his hand with the other.