Ancient Sasanian Art

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The Sasanian dynasty of Iran lasted for four hundred years, from the 3rd to the 7th centuries AD. It succeeded the Parthian dynasty in 224 AD when Ardashir I defeated the last Parthian king, and ended 4 centuries later, as a result of the Islamic expansion of the mid 7th century.

Sasanian art was based on the art of the Achaemenid Empire as well as other influences that came from as far away as the Mediterranean. The Sasanians are known for their architecture, reliefs, carvings, paintings, and toreutics (metal or other materials worked by embossing and chasing (i.e. indenting) to form minute detailed reliefs). The artwork show very courtly and chivalric scenes, often dominated by images of rulers, as well as hunting and battle scenes, and is believed to have had a strong influence on European and East Asia art. Unlike Parthian art, which preferred figures in frontal view, Sassanian art often shows figures in profile or in a three-quarter view.

More than 30 Sassanid rock relief monuments dating from the 3rd and beginning of the 4th centuries AD have been found. Each of these reliefs shows some significant event and is normally connected with a specific ruler. Other reliefs have been found that are mounted in rock-hewn arches, some showing almost fully sculpted figures. Stucco reliefs were also used extensively by the Sassanids. Stone and brick buildings were considered ugly, and were covered in stucco, into which reliefs were often carved. The reliefs were of mainly floral patterns, but also contained representations of figures, especially animals.

Sassanid art is known to have included paintings and mosaics, as well as shells of silver and gold, with a scene etched into a relief on the inner surface of the shell. Often, a ruler astride a galloping horse is shown on the shell, either shooting with a bow and arrow, or standing up, with his sword pointed at a dangerous animal such as a lion or boar. Shells have also been found that show peaceful scenes containing animal and fantasy creatures. The purpose of these shells is not known.

It is believed that colorfully decorated fabrics had a special meaning to the Sassanids. The most common motifs contain rams (the ram was the god of war), peacocks, and other animals that are arranged singly or in pairs within a rosette. It is difficult to research this art form, as few articles from the Sassanid Empire, itself, have survived to the present. Much of the research that has been done has been based on articles found in cultures outside the empire, but it is difficult to know if these articles were actually imported from the Sassanids, or were imitations or creations done by the outside cultures.


Source by Tom Littlepage

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