The FINE ARTS OF IRAN IN THE SASANIAN PERIOD
The splendid art of the Sasanian period has its roots in the ancient past: to understand it one must look to the monuments and works of art of the earlier ages of Iranian history, the periods of the parthians, Achaemenians and Medea, and the prehistoric cultures of the Iranian plateau. In this way one can comprehend its originality, its evolution and the changes it underwent in the course of the centuries.
|Tang -e- Chogan.Bishapour.King ShapourII|
The craftsmen of the period used such taste and originality in creating works of art that the influence of their skill not only reached beyond Iran to neighboring countries but even extended to the farthest quarters of the Know world, that is to say, from the shores of the Mediterranean to China. In fact, Sasanian art became a worldwide art to such an extent that its influence survived in later ages as well.
In Sasanian art which attained high standards of perfection, besides elegance and subtlety, a kind of harmony and balance are represented, characteristics which are not only apparent in particular works of art but also affected all the different classes and levels of artistic work: architecture, sculpture, engraving, metalwork, weaving coinage, jewelry, pottery, glasswork and so on.
The Sasanian monarchs were greatly interested in building, constructing cities, palaces, towers, fire-temples, eyvâns, and fortifications. Architect and other craftsmen used admirable taste and skill in constructing them from brick and various types of stone and decorating them with engraving. Reliefs, stucco-work, mosaics, and metalwork. Tâq-e Kesrâ (The Arch of Khosrow) at Ctesiphon,
In its particular style, the palace of shâpur I at Bishâpur, the palace of Gur ( Firuzâbâd). Tâq-e Garrâ and Tâq-e Bostân are all examples of the excellent architecture of the Sasanian period. The various types of decoration such as relief – carving. Stucco-work and mosaics which are used in these buildings are, each in their own way, among the masterpieces of the time. Pieces of plaster very beautuiflly cut in relief. Coming from Sasanin palaces, have been found, mostly in the of medallions attached to walls. The majority of the designs on them consist of animals, birds of Dâmghân and Ctesiphon.
The ancient historians have spoken of most of these monuments in detail, describing the spacious palaces, the audience – halls and fire-temples, thir internal. decoration and the splendor and magnificence of their appearance. Similar either regard to the beautiful capital of the Sasanian kings and the Tâq-e kesrâ at Madâʹen (Ctesiphon) the great Arad and persian ports, while expressing their somehow at its ruined state, have praised the grandeur of its remnants. Among such verses one can mention the Qasideh of Bohtori (Abu Obâdeh valid ebn Obeyd b. Yahyâ Tâʹi). khâqâni shervâni also composed a Qasideh of Iamentation upon seeing the palace of Madâʹen.
|Rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rustam|
Sasanian reliefs, of which about thirty exist, were carved on flat surfaces stone. In these reliefs, the sculptors, who were undoubtedly craftsmen of skill and ability, succeeded, with particular subtlety and taste, in representing different scenes of important contemporary events sides of mountains or rocks. Many fine points of sculptural technique can be observed on the reliefs of the investiture of Ardashir I at Naqsh-e Rajab and Naqsg-e Rostam, in which Ahurâmazdâ is giving the diadem and staff, the symbols of Kingship, to Ardashir; and on the relief of Bahrâm I at Bishâpur; the giving of the diadem of kingship to Narsi by Anâhitâ at Naqsh-e Rostam; Ardashir llʹs being given the diadem in the presence of Mithra and the investiture of peroz at Tâq-e Bostân. The large and magnificent reliefs of Shâpurʹs victory over Valerianus at Naqsh-e Rostam, Naqsh-e Rostam, Naqsh-e Dérâb and Tang-e Chugân demonstrate the excellence with which the Iranians succeeded in constructing such tableaux. Scenes of combat with beasts or of hunting – grounds or hunts, like the relief of Bahrâ ll and the lion at sar Mashhad or the extremely attractive and lively hunting – scene of Khosrow Parviz at Tâq-e Bostân are not only examples of the arts of sculpture and engraving, but also, as it were, pictures displaying the manifold episodes of the sumptuous royal hunt.
Khosro Parviz Sassanid King and
his Horse Shabdiz Taq Tagh. -e- Bostan
In the last-mentioned relief, in one part, Khosrow Parviz is seated with regal dignity on his horse watching the hunt, with a parasol over his head to protect him from the heat of the sun, while musicians, sitting on a platform are busy playing; in another, he is galloping his horse in pursuit of the quarry; in a third he is mounted on an elephant. A further seen is set in a reedbed; the king is standing in a boat drawing his bow at some boars. Behind him are two boats of minstrels playing haps. These sculptured monuments are not only valuable historical documents but may also be consiered precious pages of the history of persian art.
The statue of Shâpur I in the Shâpur cave at Bishâpur and the bust of Shâpur ll at Qasr-e Kish in ancient Babylon are striking specimens of the statuary of the choicest objects of the ancient world. With great subtlety and elegance, craftsmen created supeb pieces, using such subjects as the hunt, drinking and feasting and battles royal together with designs of mythical beasts, birds and vegetation. These gold or silver pieces which may be in the form of cups, plates, dishes, biwls or drinking vessels, ere engraved with well-proportioned designs, the figures beasts, like lions, tigers or boars, are engraved with rhythm and elegance. In vessels which show the royal hunt the artist extended himself to ensure that postures and movements should be realistic. In scenes of merriment and feasting and the enthronement of Kings every detail is attended to. The artist pays close attention to the design of clothes, jewellery, crowns, swords and thrones and carefully engraves the finest detail.
A number of dancers and musicians performing, now silver plate, with traces of gold decoration remaining , now in the Hermitage, Leningrad, shows a scene of a castle. Prepared for defense, with the people on its walls playing martial music on horns. The engraving on this vessel is so fine and true to life that from it on can gain an excels fine and true to life that from it one can gain an excellent Knowledge of the way castles of the period were for tidied. One of the finest examples of Sasanian art is a golden cup, now preserved in the Bibliothégue Nationale in paris. This cup is engraved with raised designs, the depressions of which are filled with white, crimson and green glass. In the centre of the cup a round transparent crystal is mounted and engraved upon it in the shape of a medallion is a scene of Khosrow II, seated on the throne, with the complete royal insignia. Fine glass vessels and colored glass beads for ornaments and necklaces Were also produced in this period.
Sasanian seals and medals are also important works of art. On most of them the ownerʹs portrait o title, or the symbols of the great Sasanian families and princes, or religious designs such as fire altars and the like can br seen. It is probably not too much to say that a study confined to nothing but Sasanian seals, which are made of various precious stones like carnelians, red, white,yellow or brown; rubies, quartz, marcasite and silver, would suffice to demonstrate the artistry of Iranian craftsmen.
Hunting scene on a gilded silver bowl
showing king Khosrau I
Coins, especially those of the early Sasanian period, like those of Ardashir I, Shâpur I, Bhrâm II and many others are extremely fine and beautiful. In fashioning the dies the artists took pains to engrave the figures of the kings, their particular adornments and the decoration of their robes and crowns with great delicacy. Their detailed work is full of artistic nuances.
From coin designs, metal vessels, sculpture, different sorts of engraving and pieces of jewellery one can Learn about the arts of the goldsmith and jeweller in the Sasanian period. The portraits of kings, queens, noblemen and princes, whether on coins and seals or reliefs show a variety of ornaments which tell of the goldsmithsʹ and jewellersʹ mastery of their art, Different types of crowns decorated with gems and plearls, jewelled pins and rosettes attached to the brocaded spheres which surmount them , earrings, necklaces, pendants, the borders of robes, daggers, swords and belts, all display the skill of the jewellers of the time.
Ferdowsi repeatedly speaks of the luxurious furniture of the courts of the Sasanian kings and a number of historians have described in detail and at length such jewellery and decorations. The Zeyn OI-Akhbâr contains a long description of the magnificent splendor and beauty of the throne and crown of Kosrow parviz, of his rings and ornaments, his robes and jewelled brocades, his necklaces and his earrings.The jewelled decoration and gold work of the crown and ruby-studded gold throne of Khosrow Anushirvân (Khosrow I) and the crown of khosrw parviz (Khosrow II) are described in full by Balʹami in his version of the History of Tabari.
Although we do not possess many specimens of Sasanian painting, what has survived and what historians have written on the subject demonstrate clearly the powrrs of observation and imagination of the painters of the period and their artistry. In his book, Al-Tanbih val-Eshrâf, Mas’udi mentions the paintings in a book which he saw in the possession of one of the great persian families at Estakhr. Among the contents of the book, which covered many of the sciences and the history of the Sasanian kings, were twenty-seven portraits of Sasanian monarchs, two of them women.
|Winter sasanid palace-Iraq|
Estakhri makes mention of scrolls painted with the portraits of kings which he himself saw in the hands of a family living near Arrajân. He also says that painting in manuscripts of the period was not only confined to portraits of kings and nobles but that astronomical and medical drawings also existed.
In the Manichaean paintings discovered at Turfan in Chinese Turkistan and in kansu the artistic vigor and the power of the drawing is self is self – evident.
Sasanian palaces, such as Ctesiphon, were decorated with murals and frescoes. The Roman historian, Ammianus Marcellinus in his description of another palace which he saw in the neighbourhood of Ctesiphon in the time of Shâpur II, tells of variety of royal hunting – scenes painted on the walls of the halls.
At Dura Europe's mural paintings of mounted spearmen in battle have been discovered, dating from the reign of Shâpur I. On another painting on stucco, found at Susa and datable to the middle of the fourth century, huntsmen on horseback pursue the quarry. The ground of the painting is blue, the horses and wild animals brown and orange and the clothes of the hunters pink and gold. In this scene the painter’s talent is evident, the movements of the fleeing animals as if real.
The craft of weaving made grat progress in this period and master weavers from all quarters were encouraged by the kings to come to Iran. As a result, Susa, Shushtar and Marv became important weaving centres and the export of fine and beautifully designed persian materials extended beyond the Mediterranean region as far as Gaul. The silken, woolen and brocaded cloths of persia, because of their beautiful designs and colours became famous and much desired outside Iran. The great men of Byzantium and other countries were eager to possess them, and even the churches used them for decoration and to cover the tombs of kings and nobles. The Chinese, who exported silk themselves were so taken by the designs and colours of Iranian cloth they began to produce materials inspired by them.
Ruins of Adur Gushnasp, one of three main
Zoroastrian temples during Sassanian Empire.
Among the gifts which, as historical sources tell us, khosrow ll use to give to other kings were various types of garments of hand – woven materials, tunics of satin ornamented with designs of birds in delicate colours, the brocaded materials Sundus and Estabrag, and satin horse-clothes, embroidered with gold and pearls. One can learn in detail about the designs of Sasanian materials from royal reliefs, coins and metal vessels.
In the Sasanian period the art of carpet-weaving was highly valued and the object of particular attention. In the historical texts there are long accounts of the precious court carpets of khosrow Anushirvân and khosrow parviz. The famous Bahâreatân and khosrow parviz. The famous Bahârestân carpet, also known as “Bahâr-e khosrow” (Spring time of khosrow), which fell into the hands of the Arabs at the capture of Ctesiphon, was of silk with gold and silver warps, and depicted a garden in spring, with trees, roses, sweet- smelling flowers, streams and bird of many species in a lifelike and enchanting way. Different jewels were used for the various colours. It is even said that when the king sat on it in winter, he had the illusion of springtime.
This originally Iranian art did not lose its importance in later times. Even the court of the Caliphs imitated the Sasanians in encouraging persian artists to weave carpets. In the succeedung ages as well, the art continued; the vicissitudes of time did not diminish its vigouror the beauty of its products.