Inventory no.: 3259

Safavid Persian Magic Bowl


Engraved ‘Magic’ Bowl

Safavid Persia (Iran)

17th century

diameter: 19.5cm, height: 5.3cm, weight: 1,021g

This relatively large Safavid ‘magic’ or medicinal bowl dates to seventeenth century Persia (Iran). Of engraved brass or copper alloy, it has a large, almost hemi-spherical central boss. It has an engraved, everted rim, and a low ring foot.

The central boss is surrounded by seven engraved roundels decorated with personifications of the seven classical planets (the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn). Mercury is shown as a man writing, Venus is suggested by a woman playing a musical instrument, the Sun is shown as a solar disc with a face, Mars is shown as a warrior with a sword in one hand, and so on.

The interior side is engraved with twelve roundels of

naskh script and talismanic or magical diagrams. Borders top and bottom are engraved with more (Koranic) script, as well as the spaces between the roundels.

The rim is flat and also engraved with a single line of script that runs right round the bowl.

The exterior side is decorated with twelve roundels that contain the symbols for the twelve signs of the zodiac. It also has borders of more script and script between the zodiac roundels.

The base of the bowl is further engraved with six arabesque cartouches of magical script interspersed with additional motifs.

Magic bowls did not offer continuous talismanic protection but were used only when needed. Liquid would be placed in the bowl and the Koranic verses and magical diagrams would imbue the liquid with curative and protective properties. An afflicted person would then drink the liquid in the hope of relief.

The bowl here is in fine condition. It has a fine patina and obvious age but no cracks, losses or restoration.


Maddison, F. & E. Savage-Smith, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art: Science, Tools & Magic, Part One: Body and Spirit, Mapping the Universe, The Nour Foundation, 1997.Provenance:

UK antique market

Inventory no.: 3259