This magnificent example of Safavid metalwork surpasses most others, both in size and in the engraving - which is of the highest quality.
The size of this bowl is exceptional. At 55cm. diameter, it is larger than the vast majority of Safavid metalwork known in public and private collections. One exception to this is a tinned copper bowl in the State Hermitage Museum, dated AH 999//1590-91, which measures 60cm. in diameter (Ir 2260, Sheila R. Canby, Shah 'Abbas. The Remaking of Iran, exhibition catalogue, London, 2009, no.79, pp.164-65). Canby suggests that the size may indicate that the bowl was used to serve food to large numbers of people. This seems an unlikely purpose for our bowl. Were it to be filled, the engraving that covers most of the interior would be rendered illegible. However Canby makes another suggestion - bowls of a related shape appear in paintings used as basins for washing. This seems is a more believable purpose for something so finely engraved. A miniature in the British Museum depicts a gathering of dervishes in a mountainous landscape (ME 1920,0917,0.300, Canby, op.cit., no.80, pp.166-67). The dervishes are shown drinking, washing and sleeping. One of the figures, towards the centre of the composition has his hands inside a large white bowl of similar form to ours, though evidently of ceramic. So fine is our bowl, that even were it made to fulfil a purpose such as this, it was probably commissioned for a rich patron or perhaps as an endowment for a shrine or religious building.
The late 16th century dating of this bowl is corroborated by a tinned copper example in the Hermitage which also has very high quality engraving. Although the bowl is of a different form, curving in at the shoulder and with vertical neck and separate lid, the engraving around the sides shares a very particular and unusual feature with ours. These are the cloud bands that are form three bands around the inside of our bowl and one around the outside of the Hermitage example and which in both cases join cusped reciprocal palmettes. They are extremely distinctive and very hard to parallel on other Safavid metalwork. The Hermitage example has an inscription around the top of the bowl, which includes a date, AH 1000/1591-92 AD (2259, Iran in the Hermitage. Formation of the Collection, exhibition catalogue, St. Petersburg, 2004, no.132, p.122).