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HOME : Islamic Art : AS Collection Consignment : Seljuk Turquoise Lustre-Painted Jug with Hebraic Inscriptions
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Seljuk Turquoise Lustre-Painted Jug with Hebraic Inscriptions - LK.114
Origin: Central Asia
Circa: 12 th Century AD
Dimensions: 8.0" (20.3cm) high x 6.50" (16.5cm) wide
Collection: Islamic Art
Style: Seljuk
Medium: Lustreware

Additional Information: AS

Location: Great Britain
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This is a pitcher of well-known shape (used throughout the Islamic period) with turquoise glaze and black slip lettering under the outer clear glaze. Surmounting a strong tapering foot, the main body widens quickly, much like and Islamic bowl, and reaches maximum width in about 1/3 of its main body height. It then tapers – almost linearly most of the way – to the point of narrowest width, where it is surmounted by a narrow ring band and a flaring mouth with a pinched beak- spout. (Such a top mouth and short pinched spout ultimately derives from archaic plain oil-lamps found across the near east). The body-material, with a grain of medium coarseness, is fired, when exposed, to brownish-buff. The simple, rolled handle is pasted to the body just above a point of maximal diameter, ascends linearly at a steep angle and curves back, downwards, to meet the vessel at its narrowest (neck).

The “Hebraic” inscription appears on the main body on two levels:

(1) A continuous band of letters, (2) a lower band, whose centre-line surrounds the vessel. This band contains three strings, of roughly the same number of letters. Despite some apparent differences, these strings seem to be intended as repeating the same sentence.

There is little doubt that the letters are intended as square Aramaic ones (so-called Assyrian in the Hebrew tradition) and couldn’t belong to any other alphabet. Furthermore, they conform in some details (e.g., bottom horizontal lines are “humped”) to Medieval Irano-Jewish square script.

The greatest difficulty is encountered in making sense of the inscription itself. It was intended as a Hebrew one or as quasi-Hebrew with Magical power. The following can be concluded:

(A) The inscription is a distorted result of an attempt at a reiterated meaningful name or phrase (or acronym). (B) The execution strongly suggests that the potter himself did not know any Hebrew and was not very familiar with the square Aramaic alphabet.

As far as the meaning of the inscription goes as possible, but not fully satisfactory explication is the following: (i) Each string in the lower band consists of twice repeated the name of God. (ii) The upper band consists of a concatenated reiteration of a contracted form of the name of God.

This item is a typical turquoise glazed pitcher from central/northern Iran in the late Seljuk period. Its inscription can be considered Hebraic. Even if such an item was commissioned by a Jew, it is doubtful that it could be used ritually in a Synagogue, E.g., for Netillat yadayim (ritual cleansing of hands). On the other hand it could retain a magical aura even in Islamic Iran (since square lettering is found on pre-Islamic coins and Persian Magic bowls from Hozistan, with Hebrew, Aramaic and Iranian words). The same applied to many Iranian Jewish merchants, who were not scholarly, but used the square Aramaic script in their letters. - (LK.114)


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