Notebook, 1993-

[From: Porada, Edith [With the collaboration of R. H. Dyson and contributions by C.K. Wilkinson]. The Art of Ancient Iran, Pre-Islamic Cultures. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. Art of the World. 1962.}

Preface --- 1.Geography and Trade --- 2.Beginnings of Art --- 3.The Art of The Early Urban Civilization --- 4.The Art of the Akkad and Post-Akkad Periods in Western Iran; Contemporary Art Works of North-Eastern Iran --- 5.The Art of the Elamites --- 6.The Bronzes of Luristan --- 8.Finds of The Late Second and Early First Millennium B.C. at Sialk Near Kashan --- 9.The Finds of Hasanlu - The Art of the Manneans --- 10.The Treasure of Ziwiye --- 11.The Art of the Medes --- 12.The Art of the Achaemenids --- 13.The Art of The Seleucids --- 14.The Art of the Parthians --- 15.Sasanian Art

The Art of Ancient Iran, Pre-Islamic

Chapter Five [cont.] - Notes for this chapter

A new site for rock reliefs was chosen by the Sasanian king Ardashir II [379-383] in the last quarter of the fourth century. He had a hieratically stiff scene of investiture carved in a rock in Kurdistan, at a place today called Taq-i Bustan, near Kermanshah, not far distant from the mountain of Bisutun. There also Shapur III [383-388], Ardashir's successor, had a relief made at the back of an iwan which he caused to be carved in the rock. Shapur had himself represented beside his great father Shapur II [310-379] in a pictorial documentation of the legitimacy of the son, who had had to fight for the throne. The documentary intent of these reliefs is fully compatible with their rigid composition and with the stiff rendering of the bodies, which merely provide surfaces for the decorative patterns of the material and drapery of the robes.

The iwan with the relief of Shapur III was included almost a century later in plans for a monumental triple iwan, of which the left wing was never completed. In the tympanum of the large new and supposedly central iwan an investiture scene was carved which resembled in its scheme of three figures the composition of the relief of Ardashir II, but corresponded in style to the heavy block-like pair of figures made for Shapur III. Below this relief of an investiture is one of the most impressive works of Sasanian sculpture, a king in full armour on horseback. For this figure one may cite the description of Ammianus Marcellinus: 'Moreover, all the companies were clad in iron, and all parts of their bodies were covered with thick plates, so fitted that the stiff joints conformed with those of their limbs; and the forms of human faces were so skillfully fitted to their heads that, since their entire bodies were covered with metal, arrows that fell upon them could lodge only where they could see a little through tiny openings opposite the pupil of the eye, or where through the tips of their noses they were able to get a little breath.'

In front of the entrances to the ziggurat itself stood pairs of animals of which a long-legged, slender humped bull whose head and legs were reinforced by copper rods was reconstructed by Madame Ghirshman. [28]

Before the principal entrance to the ziggurat, on the south-eastern side, two rows of sacrificial tables were made of big bricks forming low truncated pyramids. Between the last two tables there was a pit which the excavator assumes was meant to receive the blood of the sacrificial animals. Nearby he found an installation which he interpreted very convincingly as intended for liquid offerings, and facing both this installation and the pyramidal offering-tables were three large square tables made of baked brick placed against the enclosure wall; beside them was a large vessel probably intended for ablutions. [29]

We cannot judge to what extent these ritual, architectural and decorative elements so far described are typically Elamite because no Mesopotamian ziggurat of the same period is equally well preserved and shows so many details. A unique element, however, seems to be formed by the vaulted chambers found on three sides of the second storey of the ziggurat. Each chamber was accessible by a stairway, and no chamber communicated with the next. Some chambers formed a second inner row parallel to that of the rooms lying against the outside wall of the ziggurat. These inner chambers had been carefully filled up with bricks at the time when the core of the ziggurat was built in the inner court. Some of the outer chambers contained tiles and enamelled bricks as well as other materials which were doubtless used during the building of the sacred [p. 58] complex of Dur Untash, as Tchoga Zanbil was called in ancient times. The excavator doubts, however, that this was the function intended for these chambers, which are carefully finished and painted white with lime. He thinks that they were store-rooms for offerings, and he also does not rule out the possibility that they were intended for royal tombs. That they were obviously used only during the building of the sanctuary speaks for the fact that the latter was not completed.

Opposite the south-western façade of the ziggurat several chapels were erected in which votive offerings were deposited, for example, more than one hundred cylinder seals. Furthermore, there were several groups of temples in the vicinity of the ziggurat, nine in all, dedicated to different gods of the Elamite pantheon. The most interesting structure aside from the ziggurat, however, is the palace, in the plan of which the position of the five tombs deep under ground level was obviously considered. The palace included a banqueting court and rooms which seem to have been pantries, to judge by the vessels which they contained. No living quarters, however, suggest themselves in the plan of this palace, which was obviously a hypogeum, perhaps comparable to the royal sepulchers at Ashur to which the Assyrian king Sennacherib [704-681 B.C.] probably referred when he spoke of the 'palace of repose, the eternal abode'. [30] The tombs at Tchoga Zanbil were vaulted with baked brick set in bitumen and a quick-setting cement-like plaster. The use of bitumen in place of lime mortar seems to have been specifically Elamite; in Mesopotamia this material was as a rule employed only for installations in which seepage of water was to be prevented, such as bathrooms and drains. This cannot have been the case here because the deceased were cremated and weapons were brought to the tombs. Yet Ghirshman has stated that in those cases where the tombs were intact the remains of two cremated persons could be distinguished. Only one skeleton was found which had not been cremated; it was lying on a bed-like platform beside the remains of two cremated corpses. Since the Elamites, like the Babylonians, were buried, not cremated, this evidence indicates that a different, perhaps western, custom prevailed in the royal house. One is reminded here of the cremation of Hittite kings and of one of the kings of Mitani. Nowhere else, however, is there evidence of the wife accompanying her husband into death--as the remains of two people in each of four instances at Tchoga Zanbil strongly suggest.

We must state here, moreover, that so far no inscription has been found which would definitely identify the tombs and the cremated corpses with the kings of Elam.

After the discussion of the ziggurat and the hypogeum one may view with special interest the unique model depicting a ceremony which might have taken place among surroundings resembling those of the ritual installations before the principal entrance of the ziggurat at Tchoga Zanbil. Most characteristic are the two rows of small knolls which closely resemble the pyramidal offering-tables excavated by Ghirshman. Two stepped structures in the model may be abbreviated renderings of ziggurats or large offering-tables in architectural form. The model was found at Susa, in one of two vaulted rooms which had been despoiled in antiquity but which could have been tombs like those described above. [31] The model was completely encased in gypsum so that it appeared in the masonry of one of these vaulted rooms as a large white tile with green spots of oxidization on the surface. Subsequently the gypsum was carefully removed and the entire [p. 60] scene appeared, though the foliage of the trees and other delicate details were forever lost. According to the inscription the model represents a scene at sunrise and was made for king Shilhak-Insushinak [1165-1151 B.C.]. [32] This is the only scene in Western Asiatic art preserved in three-dimensional form. It undoubtedly represents a ritual ceremony which would have been recorded in written form elsewhere in Western Asia.

The execution of the model shows that attention was paid to natural proportions but that the forms were greatly simplified. The bodies of the two men, for example, are rounded but show no subtle modelling of the surface. Tentatively we shall henceforth use this simplified rounded style of the model as a criterion for dating in the time of Shilhak-Inshushinak, that is, in the twelfth century B.C.

The two greatest works of Elamite sculpture, however, belong to a slightly earlier time. They are the bronze statue of Queen Napirasu, wife of Untashigal, in the Louvre and the copper head of an Elamite in the Metropolitan Museum. The upper part of the statue of Napirasu can almost be inscribed within a rectangular block, while the skirt which covers her lower body has the form of a tall, very slightly flaring bell. A pattern of small circles enclosing a dot covers the upper part of the garment; long fringes decorate the upper part of the skirt at the back and are brought forward to frame on both sides a rich pattern of columns filled with alternating strips of zigzag and hatching and bordered by zigzag lines, almost suggesting a derivation from patterns of architectural origin. All these lines run horizontally or vertically except for the softly undulating fringes at the bottom of the skirt. In the absence of the statue's head, its hands attract the viewer's attention even more than might have been the case in the original state. Even in the original state, however, these hands with their long and slender fingers, of which only one is adorned with a ring--and their quiet pose--must have imparted a certain calm and elegance to the statue.

It is not known how the statue was made. All that can be said here is that teh surface details just described indicate the delicacy of the execution; at the same time the exposed parts of the bronze interior--in which rods of an armature seem to be recognizable--suggest that the metal was not poured at one time. One may therefore doubt that the figure was hollow cast and then filled up, as stated in the original publication. [33] That this was not the practice of Iranian metal-workers is indicated also by the great head in the Metropolitan Museum, which is cast solid [Fig. 38]. The features have probably been coarsened by the disintegration of the copper. Thus the eyelids may seem heavier now than they originally were; the nose, which seems so thick as to suggest a feature characteristic of some individual, may again have been accidentally enlarged. The mouth, however, with the beautifully curved lips and the heavy moustache, can be fully appreciated even now. [p. 61]

The head is distinguished from Babylonian sculptures by the rendering of the eyebrows, which do not meet over the nose but terminate on either side of it in a sharp oblique line. This sets the eyes further apart and gives a distinctive cast to the man's face. Lines on the forehead were probably intended to indicate his mature age. The patterns formed by the curls of the beard as well as the ornaments of the asymmetrical headgear, which consists of a chequered piece of cloth over which ribbons are wound, stress the contrast between the inanimate materials and the face, which thereby seems more alive, more human than it actually is. The dating of this head was much discussed. It may belong to the second half of the second millennium, but it may also have been made somewhat earlier. [34]

The head has been called 'Head of an Elamite', which raises a problem since the object is said to have been found in Azerbaijan. It is possible that there existed in Azerbaijan a centre in which workshops produced objects related to those of Elamite style, but so far no archaeological expedition has discovered sculptures of such quality outside Susa.

The heads of two small figurines found at Susa, one of gold with a considerable amount of silver, occasionally called electrum, the other of silver, each carrying a sacrificial goat, somewhat resemble the 'Head of an Elamite', though they are more simplified and also show differences in detail. In the faces of the figures the eyes seem to be placed somewhat obliquely, an impression also created by the copper head. [35] The eyebrows of the figurines meet above the nose, which differentiates them from the copper head; instead of describing semicircles as in Babylonian sculpture, however, the eyebrows of the figurines are much straighter, so that they somehow create an effect related to that of the eyebrows in the copper head. Furthermore, the straight nose of the silver figurine may resemble that originally given the copper head, while that of the gold figurine is broader. Despite minor differences, eyes, eyebrows, nose and also the generous moustache worn by the persons portrayed seem to render a related ethnic type.

We can only guess that the large copper head belonged to a royal statue, but we are on more solid ground with the figurines, which surely represent a king in constant prayer and sacrifice before his deity. The dedication in a temple of a valuable statue of the ruling king was frequently used in Babylonia as an event after which the entire year was named. [36] No text, however, unequivocally mentions the dedication of a gold and a silver statue. If we are right in assuming that an Elamite king dedicated two such images of himself, this would be a specifically Elamite practice.

The two figurines and a whetstone topped by a feline head in gold were found buried near the large group of objects deposited under the temple of Insushinak, [37] built in the twelfth century B. C. by the Elamite king Shilhak-Inshushinak. One wonders, however, whether objects of such great value were really deposited in the foundations of a temple. In general such figures of gold or silver [p. 62] representing the king as an offerer not only served a pious purpose but also had a value in ostentation that should not be underrated. This fact also speaks against De Mecquenem's later assertion that the gold statuette and the objects associated with it were originally funerary deposits. [38]

While it is therefore not certain that the place where these figures were found indicates a date before or in the time of Shilhak-Inshushinak, this is likely on stylistic grounds. The hair style and costume of the figures, the latter strewn with dots [reminiscent of the small circles which cover the garments of Napirasu] and bordered with the short fringe at the bottom, and the precious material point to a date in the latter part of the second millennium B.C. rather than to the first millennium. It is possible that the large head was made about the time of the figurines; as mentioned above, however, a somewhat earlier date cannot be excluded.

The golden lion's head of the whetstone, found together with the figurines and reproduced with them in Plate 12, shows greater stylization than the human figures. The formation of the leonine features, especially the large eye with the upper lid raised almost to a point and the beaded patterns of muzzle and mane, as well as the rendering of the lips by a continuous cord-like line, manifests a definite style particularly suited in its simplicity to the decoration of tools. [39] A more rounded and naturalistic rendering of animals is found in a rein-ring with two ibexes standing on either side of a tree. This motif is found in related form in an Elamite cylinder seal, and it seems likely that the rein-ring shows a transposition of the more or less two-dimensional form of the cylinder into the three-dimensional one of the rein-ring.

The shape of the rein-ring continues one which was developed in the Early Dynastic period of Mesopotamia and is documented in the Royal Cemetery of Ur. Its survival in Elamite times would not be surprising in view of the tenacity of earlier tradition in the art of Iran. [40]

The reliefs of the Middle Elamite period offer several examples of survival of earlier motifs. The most important of these reliefs is the great stele dated in the thirteenth century B.C. by an inscription of Untashgal. While the king and his consort, Napirasu, and her mother appear to have been rendered in a flat and stiff manner, at least as far as the remaining parts of the figures permit one to judge, [41] greater interest is created by the varied outline and textures of the demon with moufflon's or ram's horns, who may be derived from the demon of prehistoric Iranian stamp seals and who may be linked to demons on bronzes from Luristan discussed below. One wonders whether the demon's beaked profile with receding forehead and chin, not found in other Elamite sculptures of human figures, could have been meant to characterize an inhabitant of the mountainous regions bordering Elam. [42] The profile of the demon seems more exaggerated than that of the water goddess of the register above. As on a cylinder seal from Tchoga Zanbil, the goddess seems to grasp streams which flow from bases but which may have been meant to originate in the fins that replace the feet of the water goddess. Like the figure of the demon, the water goddess may reflect earlier iconographic traditions, such as the rendering of the watercourses in rope-like form which can be seen on the steatite vase from Khafaje of the early third millennium B.C. In turn, much later concepts concerning a vital fluid [43] could have been influenced by renderings like those of the stele. While the stele of Untashgal was buried in the ruins of Susa after the destruction of the town by Ashurbanipal, some rock reliefs which I would tentatively assign [p. 65] to the Middle Elamite period survived and may have preserved motifs of Elamite iconography for a later time. The best preserved of these reliefs is the one on the rock of Kurangun in the Bakhtiari mountains, several hours northwest of Shiraz on a high cliff seen from afar. In the main scene, which is enclosed in a rectangular frame, a god sits on a throne formed by the coils of a serpent which he holds by the neck. He also holds a vessel from which two streams of water flow. One stream forms a canopy over the god and a goddess behind him and is probably caught in a vessel held by an attendant. The other stream flows toward the long-robed slender worshippers approaching the deities. A large number of squat pig-tailed figures in short kilts are carved on the rock as if descending toward the principal scene. There is a considerable difference in style between these figures and those of the main scene, which has been explained by assuming that this scene was re-cut at a later time than the procession of worshippers. It is not possible to be definite about this, however, or to fix the date of the main scene with any certainty. One can merely say that a god with a flowing vase first occurs in the Akkad period [c. 2370-2230 B.C.] but that the motif of the flowing vase survived in varied and extended form in the Middle Elamite period, as shown by the examples on the stele of Untashgal. It is not impossible therefore that the relief of Kurangun was made in the middle or even in the latter half of the second millennium B.C. [44]

The principal scene of the relief of Kurangun was copied several centuries later at Naqsh-i Rustrem, but this relief was almost completely eliminated by a relief of the Sasanian king Bahram II [A.D. 276-293]. Only the two figures at either end are well preserved; they probably represent the Elamite king and the queen who had the relief made. The king wears the pointed headgear typical of the Neo-Elamite period; [45] the queen wears the battlemented crown that is also worn by the Assyrian queens of the seventh century B.C. [46][p. 66]

To the same Neo-Elamite period as the relief of Naqsh-i Rustem also belongs the relief of a woman spinner from Susa, here reproduced to show the survival from Early Dynastic times of female figures in a seated posture with what must have been crossed legs. Another survival is shown in the servant with a fan of the same rectangular shape as that seen on Middle Elamite cylinder seals. The rounded relief of the piece brings out fully the artistÍs delight in observation of details of dress and jewelry, of hair style and furniture. None of the reliefs, however, approach the expressiveness found in the metal sculptures. One would like to conclude from this that the Elamites were principally metal-workers who favoured more than other techniques that of modelling in wax in preparation for casting. [p. 67]

Elamite work in glazed earthenware and faience is related to this technique of modelling in a soft material and was of equal if not of greater importance than metal in the decoration of Elamite palaces, temples, and probably also more modest homes. Unfortunately, most of the earthenware and faience [47]objects have lost their brightly coloured glaze and therefore look dull. Painted and glazed earthenware tiles, objects of faience, and glass all appear at the same time in the Middle Elamite period. [48] Glazed faience and glazed earthenware were widely produced throughout Western Asia around the middle of the second millennium B.C. In Nuzi, near modern Kirkuk in northern Mesopotamia, large animal sculptures were produced in the latter material, and the same was done in Tchoga Zanbil. [49] Outside Tchoga Zanbil glass is found only rarely and glazed tiles are not found at all at this time. They appear only later in Ashur, possibly under Elamite influence. [50] Conceivably there was in Elam a desire for and interest in production of cheap 'new' materials which had even greater brilliance and intensity of colour than the far more expensive natural stones like lapis lazuli. One may also think of the recurring indications--however slight--of direct contact by sea with Egypt, where glass was invented, probably at the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty, and where the Elamites might have obtained formulas for producing glass. At any rate, the deep blue colour which they used for their cylinders is not used at other Western Asiatic sites. [51]


[Porada, Edith [With the collaboration of R. H. Dyson and contributions by C.K. Wilkinson]. The Art of Ancient Iran, Pre-Islamic Cultures. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. Art of the World. 1962.]



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