Ancient Persian Art (Sassanid Art) Articles

The Sassanid Art was created by the ingenuity of its founder Ardashir and moved towards excellence in a specified framework. Most of the Sassanid art contents and concepts have roots in pre-Sassanid cultures such as Elamite civilization, early history cultures (such as Hasanlu, Ziviyeh, Lorestan, …), and especially Achaemenid and Parthian era. Yet in cultural transmission it was also affected by Roman and Greek art and culture and some of their concepts, designs, and contents were adapted in Sassanid national and religious culture.

It was even touched by the Far East art and culture and merged with some plants and animal designs from Chinese woven silks. These miscellaneous motifs continued to live and interact on one another during four centuries of Sassanid sovereignty. It should be noted that due to their support the Sassanid art had also been royal, serving the court and the government just like Achaemenid art.

A wide range of plant, animal, and birds designs mostly being employed in symbolic or emblematic applications were similarly used in different artworks. These yet inadequately discovered symbols spread out across the Persian Empire and was used on various materials such as: stone, plaster, silk and other woven, silver, and jewels to create various objects which are identified as Sassanid art at first glance.

Sassanid Mosaics

Prior to Ardashir the Persia was ruled by Parthians for almost five centuries. Family disputes and incitement by the feudal nobles caused anarchy in Parthian organs of state. These circumstances gave “Ardashir Babakan”, the Sassanid founder, a good opportunity and strengthened the thought of creating a sovereignty based on unity and centralization. Sassanians were rich in art and have left a wide variety of majestic artworks in architecture, rock relief, mural, mosaic painting, stucco relief, sculpture, metalwork, glassblowing, pottery, coinage and stamp.

The Sassanid art is the New Persia’s art composed of Achaemenid and Parthian traditions. It should be, however, noted that this was not a sudden revival or reincarnation of old traditions free of western effects rather than a direct descendant and a representation of Parthian art and continuation of the old traditions. The Sassanid art was determined to retrieve the Achaemenian’s prestige and it soon became the national art.

All the aspects of Sassanid art especially their architecture gained such aesthetic values and became so popular that lasted long after the Yazdguerd III death and the extinction of the Sassanian dynasty. Later on, that artistic ensemble gradually adapted to the unstable cultural conditions and spread its influence throughout the trade routes to east and west.

The Sassanid relief (stucco) – the logo of the University of Tehran has been derived from this relief

The Sassanid motifs can be pursued in Central Asia’s textiles miniature and paintings, Chinese Tang dynasty’s pottery, and Byzantine and Egyptian’s silk textile printing all of them having thriving and extensive bazzars. The Sassanid art influence on Medieval Europe was not limited only to artworks rather their royal and chivalry concepts and tactics.

Sassanid art was the last of ancient east’s art. It sometimes adapted and adjusted according to its traditions and sometimes was adapted and affected distant countries.

Sassanid metalware – decorated with human and animal motifs

Vaults, domes, and iwans are specifications of the architecture of that era. Architectural ornamentation was used as coating for buildings. Stucco and mural were also widely used as interior ornamentation for buildings. Roman and Syriac (Syrian) mosaics style was derived from Persian artistic taste. Their reliefs, always glorifying the monarchs, were first appeared in Parsa region (present-day Fars province) and then reached its most magnificent form in Taq Bostan (Kermanshah).

In this magnificent vault the precedent rectangular rock relief was replaced with the square ones. This innovation just like Colossal Statue of Shapur I was a reminiscent of the Buddhist art emerged from cultural exchanges between Persia and Kushan Empire. The splendors of the decorative arts reached its peak during Khosrow I (Anushiruwan the Just) and Khosrow II (Parviz) reigns. The iconography of this era includes scenes of banquets, the king on his throne or hunting wild animals used in buildings’ decorative arts and household utensils.

Taq Bostan – a part of the hunting ground relief of the large arch

The gilt enameled cup of Khosrow II (known as the Solomon cup) is the masterpiece of the Sassanid metalworks. The art of bronze was revived in making of the bust of the kings. Weavings, stone carvings, carved gems, and engraved stones show a wide range of Sassanid iconography. The Sassanid art has been praised mostly because of its influence on the modern art.

The modern art teaches us to respect natural forms and distinguish new forms inducing life from completely abstract factors. The Sassanid art, however, is often intense and powerful and pertains to thoughts, which rarely might be penetrated.

 

References:

  • History of Art by Roman Ghirshman
  • Iran’s Industries by Dr. Jay Christie Wilson translated by Abdallah faryar
  • The Art of Ancient Iran (Pre-Islamic Culture) by Edith Porada translated by Yousof Majidzadeh
  • Evolution of National Art and Industry in Iran by Dr. Javad Kambiz
  • Iranian Pottert by Dr. Mohammad Yousef Kiani
  • The Persians (Ancient Civilizations) by Maria Brosius translated by Hayedeh Mashayekh
  • History of Iranian Art – art department – Sassanid art

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