Words of wisdom: an inscribed bowl from 10th-century Iran

Pottery produced in Arab-Islamic lands displays in the great majority of cases beautifully inscribed epigraphic bands. The beauty of the inscriptions on pottery is due to the way the text was arranged on the surface and also the way it was designed to produce, in some cases, a sort of rhythm. Kufic is maybe the most handy script to achieve such a rhythm with the perpendicular horizontal and vertical lines composing the words.

As Sheila Blair points out “inscriptions on ceramics made in the Islamic lands contain a range of texts […]. [They] include good wishes, Koranic quotations and poetry, but the ones that have attracted the most attention are historical texts, including the names of potters and patrons and dates of production.”

Even if scholars have concentrated on historical texts (as usual…), it is nice important to notice that other kind of texts were used. What I prefer is when the potter inscribed moralising sentences, aphorisms and proverbs.

He who talks a lot, spills a lot

Bowl from 10th century Iran, Nishapur | MET 40.170.25 © Metropolitan Museum, New York
Bowl from 10th century Iran, Nishapur | MET 40.170.25 © Metropolitan Museum, New York

The bowl’s (MET acc. num. 40.170.25) inscription is arranged and delivered in a way to emphasise the decorative dimension if the epigraphy. Even though there is only a single phrase inscribed, the potter decided to divide it into four parts, setting them around a centre underlined through a simple decoration.

The content of the inscription (starting from the left) reads:

من كثر

Which is literally translated: “He who multiplies his words, multiplies his worthlessness”

Much more can be said

Much more can and should be said on the bowl, but not now. It would be interesting to define the script, comparing it with the inscriptions found on other bowls of the period. Also, it would be nice to understand whether the style of the script was affected by the text inscribed and its content, as I suppose.

By now, I will simply use this inscription as it was meant to be, when it was produced in 10th-century Nishapur: as a moralising sentence.


S. Blair, Islamic inscriptions, Edinburgh 1998.
[pp. 0-17pp. 18-39pp. 40-67pp. 68-83 pp. 84-93pp. 94-123pp. 124-145pp. 146-171pp. 172-195 pp. 196-204pp. 205-243]

Metropolitan Museum of New York, “Bowl with Arabic inscription” (last accessed Dec 7th, 2014)




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