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Fatimid bowl with female scarf dancer

A larger image of a Fatimid bowl with scarf female dancer, Freer Gallery, Smithsonian's Museums of Asian Art.

MEDIUM: earthenware painted over glaze with luster
DIMENSIONS: H x W: 6.7 x 26.1 cm (2 5/8 x 10 1/4 in)
TYPE: Ceramic Vessel
DATE: 12th century
PERIOD: Fatimid period

Figural representations, such as this sensuous female dancer, played a prominent role in lustre-painted ceramics in twelfth-century Egypt. Although the vessels were made from coarser clay than earlier Iraqi examples, the decoration, like much of the art of the Fatimid period (909-1171), tended to be more animated and naturalistic. The plate is further embellished with an inscription bestowing good wishes on its anonymous owner.
Freer Gallery, Smithsonian's Museums of Asian Art F1946.30.

Title/name : Bowl with female dancer
Production place : Fatimid Egypt
Date / period : First half of the eleventh century

The outside of the bowl is ornamented with diagonal lines and the inside is decorated with a female dancer performing the ‘dance of the veils’, which is still performed in certain parts of Greece and Turkey. The young woman’s face is typical of the period: it is round with a large chin, a slightly sullen mouth, with almond-shaped eyes surmounted by eyebrows that join, a lock of hair either side that ends in curls and, on the cheeks, are two small kiss curls, which are evocative of the Turkish fashion illustrated in Mesopotamian wall paintings and ceramics from the middle of the ninth century. The body movements emphasize the rhythm of the dance, which brings to life the creases in the clothing; arcs on the abdomen and the belly button, highlighted in green, illustrate the lithe and swaying nature of the movements. In the spaces either side of the dancer are two ewers, which give the composition an element of balance. In comparison with works signed ‘Muslim’, who was a contemporary of the Caliph al-Hakim (reigned 996–1021), the bowl is datable from the beginning of the eleventh century.

The organization of the decorations—an even band around the bowl’s rim, the border containing background motifs full of ocelli, and hatchings on the outside of the bowl (the workshop’s stamp?)—follows the tradition of ninth-century Mesopotamian ceramics.

The decorative process that was used—metallic lustre—is an expensive and complicated technique, which was kept secret in the workshops and only used in urban areas for a wealthy clientele. This technique was probably already known in the eighth century, but was used on glass, as shown by several objects, including: a bowl bearing the name of ‘Abd al-Samad ibn ‘Ali, an Abbasid governor who ruled Egypt in 773, several examples from the beginning of the ninth century found in Syria, and other examples found in Samarra (Iraq) and even in Nishapur (Iran), where they were imported. From the middle of the ninth century, Mesopotamian potters produced lustre ceramics, a process that quickly spread in the Muslim world and was then transmitted to Spain and Italy. Polychrome and monochrome lustre was initially used, but only monochrome lustre continued to be used from the tenth century onwards.

The decoration on the bowl follows a theme that was commonly used in Islamic art. This was inherited from preceding periods and represented princely recreation, mainly hunting, which ended with a banquet, music, and dancing. Sometimes the entire cycle can appear on an object, e.g. on the Fatimid ivory plaquettes in the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin, which only contain allusions to dancing, and on many Persian—and much later Turkish and Indian—miniatures. It is generally evoked by a single element, as is the case here: the dancer is surrounded by pitchers, an allusion to the banquet. The wall painting in the harem in the Dar al-Khalifa Palace in Samarra (mid ninth century) is a striking example of this. This theme also appears on the ceiling decorated with painted wooden muqarnas in the Palatine Chapel in Palermo (1143).
Source: qantara

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