Posted: 2017-11-14 13:32
The second outstanding period of Persian art coincided with the Sassanian Dynasty, which restored much of Persia's power and culture. Sassanid artists designed highly decorative stone mosaics, and a range of gold and silver dishes, typically decorated with animals and hunting scenes. The biggest collection of these eating and cooking vessels is displayed at the Hermitage Museum , St. Petersburg.
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About the 9th century . the Assyrians began to move southwards and came into conflict with the Medes and Persians in the Zagros Mountains in the 8th century Sargon smashed the alliance of Median leaders. Phraorte then became the leader of the Medes, Mannaeans and Cimmerians, and conquered the Persians. The Scythians, who had taken control of Media, were governed by Cyaxares he reorganised the army and, following his alliance with Nabopolassar , founder of the Chaldean dynasty in Babylon, and with the help of nomadic tribes, he destroyed Nineveh in 667, thereby avenging the Assyrian sack of Susa in 695.
Not far from Pasargadae, at Meshed-i-Murgad, stands the tomb of Cyrus, a rectangular building set on a base of seven stone-courses, with a gabled roof made of flat stone slabs. It can be compared with monuments in Asia Minor. At Naksh-i-Rustam, near Persepolis, are the royal rock-tombs standing one beside the other. The tomb of Darius Codamannus at Persepolis was never finished. The tombs are hollowed out of the rock on the pattern of the tomb of Da-u-Dokhtar in the province of Fars. The architects carved from the rock itself an imitation of a palace facade with four engaged columns, crowned by 'kneeling bull' capitals which support an entablature decorated with a Greek moulding above this is carved a line of bulls and lions, on which rests a dais held up by Atlantes the king, turning towards a fire altar, stands on steps beneath the emblem of Ahura Mazda whose face is inside the circle.
Metal-work , of the utmost importance to an equestrian people, suffered no decline under the Achaemenids. Bronze was used for the facing of certain parts of buildings, such as doors. For work in gold and silver an especially elaborate technique was employed, with silver dishes in repousse (foreshadowing Sassanian plate with its rosette and boss-beading ornamentation), angled rhytons whose bases are formed by the head of a goat or an ibex, vases with handles ending in an animal's head or else made to represent an animal's body (like the two handles of the same vase, one of which is in Berlin and the other in the Louvre, depicting a winged silver ibex incrusted with gold), a triangular stand from Persepolis composed of three roaring lions, the realistic treatment of which contrasts with that of the bronze lion found at Susa, comparable in pose to the lion from Khorsabad but far more stylised and suggestive of the monsters of the Far East.
Persian religious thought, governed by the idea of the polarity of good and evil, penetrated the entire ancient world of that time. Mostly artists drew upon local portrayals of gods and malevolent or guardian djinns. They dominated a people who went on seeing them as they had always been, and the Persian artist, using scenes that were already well known, elaborated them not only in the way they were depicted but also in the purpose for which they were intended. Their treatment is disturbingly cold and detached, and the protagonists seem totally unconcerned with whatever they are doing. On the other hand, if we look at these scenes from another point of view we shall see that the artist invariably produced set pieces that were extremely fine as architectural ornamentation, as, for example, the motif of the lion attacking a bull, which had possibly been chosen because it could symbolise one of the religious themes that was later to take root: Mithra the sun god slaying the bull.
Texts and monuments alike have nothing to say of the Persians' religion, which we can only begin to appreciate by its contribution to culture - so unlike anything that happened in Greece - as its light shone throughout the ancient world long after the collapse of the Achaemenid empire. Crystallised within the Persian civilisation was an Oriental civilisation many thousands of years old but a new spirit had swept across the great plateau in the tracks of those audacious horsemen, and when Alexander embarked on his conquest of Asia he followed the routes taken before him by the King of Kings.
Graeco-Persian reliefs from the end of the 5th century have been discovered in the region of Dascyleium in Bithynia, depicting a procession of men and women on horseback and a Persian sacrifice with two priests (Magi), the lower half of their faces veiled, carrying a mace in their hands, nearing an altar, with the heads of a ram and a bull on a brushwood stake at their feet.
Greek civilisation owed a great deal to that of Asia Minor at a very early date, contact between the two was established along the shores of the Aegean. This lasting contact developed, little by little, into a formidable struggle against the Persian empire, whose history was closely linked with an Oriental civilisation that the West was for ever to be confronted with and that it was never able to escape.
When they came to power the renown of the Persians spread throughout the ancient world before this, Nabonidus had been told by the god Marduk, who had appeared to him in a dream, of Astyages' downfall and the coming of Cyrus. We have a typical example of the infiltration of Medo-Persian influence in Babylon, where Nebuchadnezzar II had built the hanging gardens, to delight his wife Amytis, the grand-daughter of Astyages who remembered with longing the gardens or 'paradises' which were part of every Achaemenid palace, those
gardens that are still part of Iran's enchantment today. Even in Babylon buildings were to be found termed 'appa dana'. A palace in Sidon (then a Persian capital), burnt during the insurrection of the satrapies, illustrates well enough how the Persian style, both in dress and architecture, had everywhere taken root.
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Other painting styles, such as mountain-scapes and hunting scenes became popular during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries with Baghdad, Herat, Samarqand, Bukhara and Tabriz becoming the main art centres. Later, portrait art became fashionable. From the late 6655s, Persian artists imitated European painting and engraving , leading to a slight weakening of Iranian traditions.
The art of ancient Persia includes architecture, painting, sculpture and goldsmithing from the early kingdom of Iran in southwest Asia. The term Persia derives from a region of southern Iran previously known as Persis, or Parsa, which itself was the name of an Indo-European nomadic people who migrated into the region about 6555 BCE. The ancient Greeks extended the use of the name to apply to the whole country. In 6985, the country officially changed its name to Iran. From its earliest beginnings, ancient art in Persia was a major influence on the visual arts and culture of the region.
Persia assumed the name of Iran under the Sassanids. It is bounded by Armenia, the Caspian Sea and Russia to the north, Afghanistan to the east, the Persian Gulf to the south and Iraq to the west. The country is made up of a very high plateau with a central salt desert. To the west this plateau runs into the mountains of Armenia and, along the eastern side of Mesopotamia, matches the plateau of Asia Minor which borders Mesopotamia to the north-west. These two plateaux, cut by small valleys, form the extreme edges of the central Asian plateau known as the 'great steppes'. The empire of the Achaemenid Persians extended far beyond these boundaries, stretching from the Indus to the Aegean Sea and the Nile.
The Medes and Persians were part of the tide of Aryans who, taking advantage of the upheaval produced by the Indo-Europeans throughout the entire ancient world, came to settle on the Iranian plateau. The Medes, like both the Cimmerians - who came from Thrace and Phrygia - and the Scythians, were a race of horsemen possessing no other riches beyond objects that could be carried with them, such as weapons, metal vessels and ornaments. Median art, of which the Sakkez treasure is the main example, combined the influence of the Medes' northerly neighbours the Scythians with that of their opponents the Assyrians.
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It was here that the Achaemenian genius developed to the full. The barracks and citadel were built on a mountain overlooking a wide plain in the direction of Shiraz. The lower slopes were levelled off for an esplanade on which a virtual city of palaces was built. Although excavations have now uncovered almost all the buildings, we still have no very clear idea of the purposes for which they were intended, although it would seem that the buildings in question are almost exclusively state or ceremonial edifices. From the walled esplanade a great stairway with a double ramp leads down into the plain opposite the highest landing are the propylaea of Xerxes, a massive four-sided structure open at each end and along the sides and decorated with colossal human-headed winged bulls. Around the entrance, spaces left empty with regular hollows cut out of the rock were intended for terrace gardens.
Persia then appeared to be the country that was potentially a centre for every kind of activity: in 567 Darius ordered Scylax of Caryonda, the Carian captain, to sail down the Indus. The Greek doctor Ctesias lived at the court of Darius II and Telephanes of Phocaea worked for the King of Kings for the greater part of his life. This in part explains the infiltration of Greek and other foreign influences, along with the use of foreign labour with which the foundation charter of the palace of Darius at Susa (translated by Father Scheil), is very much concerned this charter is, in this respect, one of our most useful and instructive sources. There the king lists all the materials required, from. India to Greece, for the building of his palace: they came accompanied by craftsmen experienced in working with these materials.
The Persians, who settled farther south, spent some time, however, in northern Iran where they came under Median domination. Their art, consequently, from the time they were firmly established on the Persian plateau presents an everlasting dualism springing from this mixture of influences, from the north and from the south with its echoes of Mesopotamian traditions. The union of these two basic factors was strengthened by the marriage of the Persian king Cambyses to the daughter of the Median king. It also incorporated elements of foreign arts in the expansion of that vast empire that one day was to extend from the Indus to the Nile thus a composite art was created which was typically Achaemenid but of which only a few works, created for the court, remain.
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