Magic bowl with Qur’anic verses and personifications of the seven celestial spheres

Islamic magic bowls are documented as early as the twelfth century, although an increased production is attested during the Safavid period (1501-1722). Hemispherical in shape, these bowls are engraved with a range of motifs including magic squares, religious invocations, astrological signs, and Qur’anic verses, whose “healing” power was believed to have protective and therapeutic functions on those who used the vessels. The decoration on the bowl in the Ashmolean Museum, covering both the inside and the outside, is extremely fine and combines signs of the zodiac inscribed in star-shaped motifs; personifications of the seven celestial spheres in roundels alternated to Persian invocations to ‘Ali - the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad - and verses from the Qur’an distributed in rows of interlacing oval cartouches.

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