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 Six - Notes for this chapter

The Bronzes of Luristan
About ten years ago it was still unsafe for tourists to venture into the mountainous region of Luristan, which derives its name from the Lurs, a tribal people who practiced a little agriculture, raised horses and some cattle, and indulged from time to time in brigandry. Today one of the most scenic routes of the Near East leads from Susa to Khorramshahr and BurÄdjird or Harsin to Kermanshah. At the entrance into the valley of the Kherka river, called Simarreh in Luristan, the mountains rise like fortresses to protect this still remote region. The houses of the villagers, built of mud brick, have a striking feature: horns of an ibex, with the head partly modeled in clay over the bones of the cranium, are placed on the edge of the roof, usually above an entrance, perhaps to protect the dwelling. [1] This may reflect very ancient customs, though proof is lacking at present. The further one progresses toward the north of Luristan, the greener are the pastures in the valleys. This is good horse-breeding country, and we may assume that Kassites, Elamites and others obtained many of their horses from this region. Perhaps there was a connection between the breeding of horses and the mercenary military service engaged in by men of Luristan, by which some historians explain the presence in Luristan graves of daggers inscribed with the names of Babylonian kings of the twelfth and eleventh centuries B.C. [2] By some means the inhabitants of Luristan must have accumulated great wealth; it manifested itself in hundreds if not thousands of bronze objects taken illicitly from graves and perhaps also from sanctuaries in Luristan, such as the one excavated at Surkh Dum. [3] This excavation was carried out in 1937 but is still unpublished. A Danish expedition undertaken in 1963 discovered some tombs with bronzes and--it is hoped--will soon publish its important finds.

Because very little is known about the circumstances under which most of the Luristan bronzes in museums and private collections were discovered, the dating of this material and the identity of the people who produced it are still subjects of lively controversy among scholars. The dates assigned to the bronzes vary from 1500 to 700 B.C.; some scholars would even include the span of the seventh century B.C. in the time during which bronzes were produced in Luristan. Among the people who were supposed to have created the bronzes are the Kassites of the sixteenth to twelfth century B.C. and the Cimmerians of the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. The great differences in the dates are due in part to the fact that the bronzes are often considered to have been produced within a relatively short time. In the present book, however, an effort is made to distribute them over a longer period. [4] This approach may also help to bring the problem of the originators of the bronzes a little closer to a solution.

A few indications for classifying the groups of finds from Luristan are given by the seal types which are seen together with Luristan bronzes in dealers' shops and in collections. There were seal-rings and stamp seals of bronze, the latter often in the shape of very simplified birds; a few stamp seals were made of stone; and cylinder seals were made of stone, faience and bronze.

Two types of seal-rings are typical of Luristan; I have called them sheet-rings and lobed rings after the most salient feature of their shape. The sheet-rings are made of an engraved sheet of bronze, wider in front than at the back where the narrow ends are bent together. The lobed rings have the hoop greatly enlarged in front, forming an upper and a lower lobe which diminish in sharp curves. [p. 75] toward the back. These lobed rings were cast, and the design was subsequently engraved--often merely scratched--on the front of the ring.

The sheet-ring reproduced here shows in the centre of the design a tree with a crown composed of the pointed serrated oval forms seen in an Elamite cylinder [Fig. 32]; in the ring the tree is flanked by two bulls. The close resemblance to the Elamite design precludes a much later date for the ring. Moreover, a closely related design of a tree flanked by two confronted walking bulls is found in the design of the king's crown on a Babylonian boundary-stone dated about 1100 B.C. [5] In the Babylonian example, however, the bulls do not have the same distinctive outline of neck and horn as in the seal-ring and also in an Elamite tile, where the neck rises sharply at first and then bends, almost at a right angle, to continue in a horizontal direction to the end of the horn. The Babylonian bulls also lack the strongly arched breast and the long body on thin graceful legs of the bulls on the Elamite tile and the sheet-ring from Luristan. To these principal features one might still add a number of minor ones to prove the origin of this and related sheet rings in Iran.

No gradual transition can as yet be discerned from the sheet-rings to the lobed rings. The example chosen here shows a winged demon who stands on horned animals. His frontally rendered head and raised hands with spread fingers create an arresting impression. At the same time the rendering of the feet, placed on the hindquarters of two recumbent horned animals, lacks definition. The linear execution of the design and the slightly unbalanced posture of the demon differentiate the rendering of the lobed ring from an Elamite tile which, though fragmentary, also shows a demon standing on two adorsed animals or rather griffins. I think that the differences between the design of seal-ring and tile are not only those of medium, locality and craftsmanship, but also of style, which in [p. 76] turn would express a difference in time. The rendering of the birds' wings in the seal-ring, for example, reminds one of the skeleton of a bird, an impression which is more in keeping with the lean bull of the Elamite tile tentatively dated in the tenth to ninth century B.C. than with the fat griffin solidly lying on the ground-line in the earlier Elamite tile, here dated equally tentatively in the twelfth to eleventh century B.C.

The two-seal-rings shown here seem to represent two different phases in the art of Luristan: the first one, of the twelfth and eleventh centuries B. C., under strong Babylonian influence; the second, dated to the tenth and ninth centuries B.C., based on Elamite prototypes but showing distinctive characteristics in the expressiveness of the often very simplified and linear representations.

The cylinder seal from Luristan reproduced here also recalls earlier Elamite forms in a general way, although it is difficult to cite exact parallels. The enthroned deity with a horned mitre makes one think of an early Middle Elamite cylinder; however, the mitre in the cylinder from Luristan is differently shaped, and the deity has saber-shaped wings, to cite only the most obvious difference. The goblin squatting before the deity may have been taken over from such renderings, as seen in an Elamite cylinder; this little figure appears in several Elamite examples and was also occasionally represented by the bronze-workers of Luristan. [6]

The animal behind the throne on the cylinder from Luristan is a feline creature, to judge by its claws, perhaps intended to represent a lion, but of a supernatural variety since he has a horned mitre. The rendering of this animal in particular conveys an impression of thin, linear and pointed forms. These are criteria of style here assumed to point to a date in the tenth or ninth century B.C. The fringes on the throne of the deity, which occur in related manner on Assyrian cylinder seals approximately dated in the ninth century B.C. and probably earlier, [7] tend to confirm this date.

The date of the cylinder seal thus appears to correspond with that of the lobed rings, although the style of the latter differs from the cylinders in that it does not represent a well-defined stylistic group in which one or more artists had worked out certain conventions, such as the rendering of the claws or the mitres that are found on more than one cylinder seal. The bronze rings, on the contrary, differ from each other and seem to have been scratched almost accidentally and singly rather than by practiced craftsmen. Yet renderings like the demon of Figure 48 are important because they reflect, however crudely, the themes current at that time in Luristan.

A square plaque, probably an amulet rather than a seal-stone, belonging to a [p. 78] distinctive type said to have been found in Luristan, shows on one side a gazelle, on the other a crouching lion whose claws might be called simplified versions of those of the feline monster in Figure 49. The lion of the plaque, however, has more rounded forms than the figures in the cylinder. This is in part due to the drill which was employed to make the major hollows for the animal bodies in the plaque and also for the details in the head, as well as for rings, each with a dot in the centre, which fill the field. The use of the drill, which can also be noted in Assyria and Babylonia on cylinder and stamp seals from the ninth to the sixth century B.C., suggests that taste turned to rounded, fuller forms than those common in Luristan at the slightly earlier time to which I assigned the cylinder [Figure 49]. Moreover, the lion of the plaque with its strongly arched and powerful neck seems to prefigure representations of lions made in the Achaemenid period. [8] [p. 79]

In addition to the seals here discussed, which seem to be typical of Luristan and have not been found elsewhere, other seal types also occur in this area. Some are faience cylinders engraved with human figures, often shown with a tree in a very simplified globular style referred to as Mitannian or Hurrian. The style can be dated in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries B.C. because so many seal impressions of this style were found on tablets at Nuzi in northern Mesopotamia and at Ashur. Cylinders of this type obviously could be manufactured in large numbers and therefore probably sold cheaply. Moreover, they may have been sought after because of the prestige enjoyed by the Mitannian empire at that time. [9] The same situation prevailed with respect to the Assyrian faience cylinders of the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. Again the prestige of a great power, this time Assyria, could have been coupled with the relative cheapness of such cylinders to cause their wide distribution.

These two groups of cylinders may mark the periods of most active exchange between Luristan and northern Mesopotamia. The fact that the majority of the bronzes of Luristan do not show Assyrian influence may indicate that they were made when there was less communication between the two regions.

At first the many types and styles among the Luristan bronzes confuse the viewer. Only gradually can one succeed in assembling distinctive classes of objects and in postulating stylistic connections and sequences. A large number of the bronzes are cast. They comprise weapons such as axes, daggers and the so-called halberds, which were named for their superficial resemblance to medieval halberds; there were also picks and mace-heads. The bronze jewelry [p. 80] includes rings for all the joints of the human body from finger-rings to anklets. There were also pins with all sorts of heads, shaped like animals, birds or plants, and there were pendants of various types. Another large group of Luristan bronzes consist of parts of horses' gear, of which only the bits and cheek-pieces can easily be identified, whereas the use of other objects remains unknown. The best-known Luristan bronzes are the so-called standards, consisting of a pair of ibexes or a pair of feline animals, panthers or lions, or of a demonic figure with support and held in place by a thin tube or a pin.

Another group of Luristan bronzes consists of objects worked in repoussé and chased. Disk-headed pins, plaques for belts and quivers, and vessels of various shapes belong to this group. [p. 81]

A few of the bronzes from Luristan can be fitted into the phases worked out above for the seals: an early phase under strong kassite and Mitannian influence, a second phase in which an expressive style was formed on the basis of Elamite prototypes [tentatively that phase may be dated in the tenth and ninth centuries B.C.], and a third phase [which may have lasted until the end of the seventh century B.C.] in which earlier forms were varied and enriched.

All the objects cannot be fond in all phases. The only objects which one can certainly assign to the earliest phase are daggers and axes which have inscriptions naming Babylonian kings of the twelfth and eleventh centuries B.C. [10] The reason why these inscribed daggers were found in Luristan is subject of debate among scholars. While it is undeniable that certain ones were dedicated to deities, and were presumably deposited in sanctuaries, others could have been used to compensate deserving leaders of auxiliaries. Another interpretation sees in the weapons loot from Babylonian and Elamite temples. [11] At any rate, both daggers and axes served as examples for later, somewhat more exaggerated forms produced in Luristan. [p. 82]

The bowl in Plate 18 is said to have been found with two such daggers in a cave near Kermanshah. Its decoration of a tree flanked by two walking bulls is closely linked with that of the seal-ring discussed above. Both differ from Babylonian renderings of the theme, which have neither the typical curve of the neck nor the strongly arched breast. Moreover, the raised foreleg of each of the bulls deprives their stance of the solidity which a Babylonian artist would have sought for his figures. In Iran, on the other hand, the natural relation to the groundline is often disregarded. A good example is the goat and man on the admittedly far earlier vase from Susa D.

The majority of the bronzes appears to belong to the second and third phases, which are as yet difficult to differentiate. Only a few types of bronzes will be discussed here, and only very tentative suggestions can be made for their classification.

Among the cast bronzes the standards show the greatest variety in style and form. Possibly the simply and naturalistically modelled standards with two small ibexes are the earliest. Standards in which the bodies of the ibexes are more elongated and subjected to an abstract principle of decoration are here taken to be of later date. In these standards the curvature of the horns is answered by a curvature of the neck which continues in lesser curves throughout the body. Such a tendency toward more abstract and attenuated forms was observed in cylinder seals from Luristan dated approximately in the tenth or ninth century B.C. In the standards with feline creatures no such development from a more naturalistic to an abstract type can be observed; instead, the felines immediately appear with long, decoratively curved necks. These long-necked feline creatures remind one of the demon of an Elamite cylinder seal from Tchoga Zanbil, which is probably later than the bulk of the seals from that site and may be contemporary with the bronzes.

The bronzes were probably first formed in wax and later cast in bronze by the lost-wax process. The heads of the feline animals seem to have been formed of coils of wax, which were made to surround the eyes and the jaws. It seems likely that the most carefully formed were the earliest, whereas those made with 'labour-saving devices' became less clearly differentiated in form and probably belong to a later period. [p. 84]

Composite standards in which a demonic figure with human head and torso is combined with animal forms may be later than the simpler feline and ibex standards, tough the strong geometric tendency in the composition of these standards corresponds to the style here thought to characterize the art of the beginning of the first millennium. There have been rumours that such standards were found together with pottery of the second millennium B.C. [12] Before positive evidence is produced by controlled excavations, however, we can do no more here than draw the reader's attention to the extraordinarily powerful impact produced by these standards. In the standard shown here a demonic figure grasps by the throat monsters which have yawning jaws or beaks and cocks' combs and may represent griffins. A pair of similar heads with closed beaks clearly recognizable as griffin heads appears on a lower level of the standard. The lower part of the demonic figure is formed by the hips and legs of an animal, and human feet, with the toes as if seen from above, form the whiskers of a demonic face. Two other faces with staring eyes appear above. The eyes and the combination of monstrous and human forms were surely thought to be a powerful means of averting the approach of evil demons. The specific significance of this and other composite demons in Luristan bronzes, however, may never be known.

Some suggestion for the way in which standards could have been set up can be made merely for the ibex standards. A tube is frequently pushed through the ring against which the ibexes lean with their forefeet; in some cases it has become permanently attached to the standard by corrosion. [13] The tube could have held a flower or slender branch, or perhaps a pin with a head in the form of a fruit such as a pomegranate. [14] With such a vegetal element between them, the ibexes would have been a three-dimensional version of the venerable motif of goats with a tree. The same motif is shown in a rein-ring here taken to be Elamite. If this assumption can be maintained, [15] it seems possible that the ibex standards go back to Elamite prototypes.

The representation of ibexes with a tree, which is also found on a cylinder seal excavated in Luristan, [16] recalls the fact that horned animals and a tree are associated with a mother goddess in the Haramosh valley. Perhaps similar concepts were current in Luristan, although ibex and moufflon are indigenous animals and would naturally appear in any iconography of the region.

Whether the two feline animals with a tree seen in the pin-head reproduced here indicate that the feline standards should be reconstructed in the same way as the ibex standards, and whether they belong to the same cycle of ideas remains unknown.

Other bronzes have motifs derived from nature and the life of animals, perhaps without any deeper meaning. Such is the pin of the type here reproduced as Figure 56. A feline animal, lion or panther, or a dog pursues an ibex and a moufflon rendered by a play of curves which is not only visually pleasing but also expresses the desperate and doomed flight of the horned animals as they escape their pursuer.

Comparison with the placid rendering of a related motif, a lion pursuing a goat, in the ancillary scene of an Elamite cylinder shows up the singularly expressive powers and aesthetic qualities of some of the Luristan bronzes. If we are right in dating late those feline heads which are rendered in a very simplified manner, the pin should be dated about 800 B.C.

Curious square or round finials, here called wands [a term coined by Erich [p. 86] Schmidt], [17] constitute a group which I should like to place relatively early in the Luristan sequence because of the carefully coiled feline heads and the painstaking hatching of the framing device. It is interesting to note how ably the artist linked the figure of the moufflon demon in the centre with those of the feline creatures at his sides, occasionally using rosettes to fill the interval between figure and frame.

The figure of the demon with moufflon horns shows how long this demon survived in the regions of south-western Iran. We found the demon first on a prehistoric stamp seal, then again on the stele of Untashgal from Susa; now it appears on Luristan bronzes. This shows how much of the ancient Iranian heritage was preserved in the Bronzes of Luristan.

One of the most attractive groups of bronzes from Luristan comprises the cheekpieces, usually a pair of animals or monsters joined by a rigid bronze bar. Ghirshman made the interesting observation that none of these bars, of which he examined several dozen, showed the slightest sign of usage. The peasants who dig up these cheek-pieces call them 'under the head'. Ghirshman suggested that, by placing such a bit under the head of the deceased, one created the illusion that he would make his last journey on horseback or in a chariot [even though he might not have been one of the privileged group of charioteers or horsemen during his life]. [18]

It will surely be possible one day to differentiate between earlier and later cheek-pieces, but at present such divisions cannot be supported by results from stratified finds. In some of the cheek-pieces, such as those reproduced in Plate 20, an ancient artistic device of Iranian art is employed in turning the animals' heads at right angles to the axis of the body and modelling them three-dimensionally [see the comments below on this device in connection with some of the gold vessels from Marlik, p. 91]. Yet there is no reason to assume that these cheek-pieces are earlier than those in which the head is shown on the same axis as the rest of the body, as in the piece reproduced in Plate 21 above.

The stylistic differences between the two pairs of cheek-pieces reproduced in Plate 20 are striking. In the lower pair the bodies are quite flat and merely show a linear patterning of the surface, and the heads are worked in the round without much differentiation of the planets. In the upper pair a greater amount of modelling has resulted in more rounded forms. Probably such differences indicate that these cheek-pieces were made in different work shops situated in different localities rather than that there was a difference in time between objects of such similar type. [p. 87]

The rounded modeling of the upper pair seems to be related to the cheekpieces in the form of a horse, which may be dated in turn by comparison with an Assyrian relief traditionally assigned to Sennacherib [794-681 B.C.]. [19] This relief gives us at least a general indication as to the date of the cheek-pieces from Luristan, though it may mark the end of the series.


[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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