C.3. Silver prototypes theory:


Another theory that has been advanced to explain the apparent strangeness of these ceramics is that their inspiration derives not from other ceramic prototypes, but from metalwork. The problem with trying to prove this assertion is that there are no surviving Samanid metal vessels with which to compare the pottery. The reason for this will be dealt with in Section 4. However, metalwork of the same period has been preserved in the Hamadan hoard, from northwest Iran, which contains various pieces with similarities to the ceramics.

Raby has suggested that the distinctive shapes of Samanid ceramics derive from metal prototypes: for example, the deep bowl with such straight sides and the large platters with wide, flat rims are comparable to silver dishes of the same shapes found in the Hamadan hoard, illustrated in Raby (pp188&192). He believes that the style of epigraphy on Samanid vessels also derives from silver dishes with inlaid niello inscriptions, which would suggest a colour scheme of black on white when translated into pottery. The calligraphy of the silver platters of the Hamadan hoards are disposed concentrically, like the Samanid dishes and unlike the ‘Abbasid ones, and while the style of writing is more decorative on the silver dishes, this can be explained by the C11th date for the hoard, which coincides with the third stage of the ceramic epigraphy (see Volov's argument). The medium of pottery leant itself more naturally as a technique for writing and the style of penmanship on the ceramics is influenced by calligraphy on paper.

The only difference between the epigraphy on the pottery and silver vessels is the content of the inscriptions. On the silver dishes, the inscriptions are dedicatory, containing the patron’s name and titles, and the standard blessings for his well-being; in contrast, as we have seen above, the pottery bears non-personalised aphorisms. However, the more precious silver vessels are more likely to be unique commissions while the pottery vessels can be mass-produced.


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