Discoveries at Harvard – ROM expertise at work

Posted: June 21, 2012 - 15:14 , by Robert Mason
Collections, From the Field, World Culture | Comments () | Comment

This week I am in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Harvard Art Museums  here are rebuilding, and planning new galleries, and have also acquired a new collection of pottery from the Middle East.  So they have flown me down here for the week on an all-expenses-paid visit, to look at their Islamic pottery (AD 700-1700) and tell them if it is good (not fake), where it is from, and when it was made.

Man looking at an object through a magnifyer

Magnification is a great aid in examining objects, when you know what you are looking for!

They are really making me work for it.  Apart from talking to them about their pottery all day, they are having me give two public lectures and every evening there are receptions and dinners with senior colleagues, administrators, board-members, major donors, and other people that they want me to be nice to – a lot more work than it sounds!

An important discovery! This dirty and neglected object is actually a rare dish from the time of the Fatimid Dynasty in Egypt.  Although there are fragments from another bowl included, and some plaster fill, it is very unusual to have vessels as complete as this from the Fatimid period.

Image of bowl

Rare Fatimid dish, mid 12th century AD (photo R.Mason)

Years ago no-one would have known that this dish was made in Nishapur, Iran, during the Timurid dynasty.  Research by the ROM’s Lisa Golombek and I has revealed the true nature of ceramic production and trade for this period.

Image of a dish

Timurid dish, late 15th century AD (photo R.Mason)

About a thousand years old this bowl was also made in Nishapur. I find this group very interesting because they often have motifs and designs from Central Asia, ancient symbols that reach back into prehistory. This image in particular is intriguing in that it seems to represent a Central Asian shaman that can use animal or other guides to enter the spirit world. Not what might be expected on “Islamic” pottery!

Image of a dish

10th century AD Dish with Central Asian motifs (photo R.Mason)

This very large cat ornament was made in Kashan, Iran. I thought my daughter would like him!

Image of a cat sculpture

12th century AD cat sculpture (photo R.Mason)

I would have to say that they have some very nice objects here, and there have been a number of interesting discoveries during my stay.  Harvard has some very important objects and they recognise something that the ROM has – expertise.