Bowl, Iraq, 9th century, Abbasid period. earthenware painted over glaze. H: 5.7 W: 20.8 D: 20.8 cm. Museum Code: F2000.2. Freer and the Sackler (Smithsonian) Museums.

Among the earliest surviving works of art decorated with writing are a group of ceramic vessels, produced in Iraq and Iran under the rule of the powerful Abbasid dynasty (749–1258). Inspired by the whiteness and purity of the much admired, imported Chinese porcelain, Muslim potters created their own “white ware” by covering their buff-colored earthenware vessels with a glaze containing a small amount of lead and tin, which turns opaque when fired. Unlike the Chinese models, most of the Abbasid vessels were embellished with a variety of motifs, including calligraphic designs. This bowl combines both vegetal motifs and calligraphic design in cobalt and copper glazes. Surrounded by windswept palmettes, the inscription in the center confers blessings to the owner.