A major philanthropist from the Boston area, Norma Jean Calderwood assembled an extensive collection of Islamic art, ranging from austere and powerful epigraphic ceramics of the 9th and 10th centuries to the introspective realism of late-19th-century portraiture. With more than fifty pieces of ceramics, the collection represents every significant period and technique in Persian pottery. It has particular strength in illustrations of the greatest epic poem in the Persian language, the Shahnama (Book of Kings) by Abu'l-Qasim Firdawsi, and also includes beautiful examples of album painting, drawing, and calligraphy.
Nine essays by diverse experts explore issues of conservation as well as the cultural and historical significance of various objects in this largely unpublished collection. Topics include the influence of calligraphic line and physical gesture on Safavid drawings; figurative imagery on Iranian ceramics; and what cobalt pigment reveals about an object's origins.