Sasanian silver-gilt plate from Krasnaya Polyana. Male figure lassoing a bear. 3rd to early 4th centuries.
Silver-gilt plate from Krasnaya Polyana. Male figure lassoing a bear
Abkhazian State Museum. Abkhaz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, acc. no. 47.71
Lukonin. Iran, pl. II
Plate 9 in: Harper, Prudence and Meyers, Pieter Silver Vessels of the Sasanian Period. Volume One: Royal Imagery, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Princeton University Press, New York, 1981
Krasnaya Polyana plate (PL. 9). The scene on a plate found at Krasnaya Polyana having an inscription with the name Bahram, beneath the rim on the exterior,56 is somewhat more complex in composition than that on the Shemakha vessel (P1. 8). On the plate the hunter is seated upright in a vertical position on a horse galloping to the right. The hunter turns his upper body and lassos a bear,57 placed behind him to the viewer's left.58 Beneath the horse, spread out horizontally on the ground, is the dead figure of a second bear. The hunter is depicted with the front of his body facing the viewer. No landscape elements appear in the scene, and in spite of the addition of a second animal, the design still fits perfectly within the circular frame. In order to achieve this the artist has let some parts overlap others. The composition of the scene essentially follows that of the plate from Shemakha. Two parallel, vertical lines dominate the design, and the slightly oblique and rising line of the horse's body is balanced by the faintly oblique and falling line of the dead bear.
The Krasnaya Polyana hunter is dressed differently from the archer on the first plate. He wears a tall curved cap with a beaded perimeter and surface. A row of upright palmettes decorates the forehead band. This type of headgear is a standard one for Sasanian princes and nobility and remains in use, by a
56. See Chapter II, p.29. Abkhazian State Museum. Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhaz, acc. no. 47-71 diam. 28.5 cm.; height with foot 3.2 cm.; weight 1820 gm.
57. Lukonin quotes Melikov as stating that the bear is the typical prey of the Caucasian region. This fact and the realistic rendering of the animals led Melikov to suggest that the plate must have been manufactured in the Caucasus. Lukonin disagrees with this opinion and states that bears were also common in northern Iran. He also cites the appearance of bears on stucco plaques found at Ctesiphon: Iran, pp. 55-57. Trever states that the bear never appears as the prey on a vessel made by Sasanians. She mentions a silver plate with representations of bears seen by Smirnov in Tbilisi, but one cannot now determine what vessel this was: "K voprosu o tak nazyvaemikh sasanidskikh pamîatnikakh," p. 284.
In the description of a game park near Ctesiphon, Ammianus Marcellinus specifically mentions the presence of bears, calling them "savage beyond all manner of madness (as they usually are in Persia)": Ammianus Marcellinus, Book XXIV, 5. 2.
58. The lassoed bear is described as running away by Fajans in "Recent Literature," p. 61. This opinion is contradicted by Francovich in "Il concetto della regalitÓ," p. II.
variety of officials, throughout the period.59 On the surface of this cap is a tamga or monogram, a feature that also occurs on Sasanian seals and early Sasanian rock reliefs.60 Short ribbons rather than long ones spread out from the forehead band. The hunter wears a necklace and an earring similar to those worn by the archer on the Shemakha plate (P1. 8). The necklace resembles that of the king on the Sargveshi cup (Pl. 2) and on third- and fourth-century coins and reliefs.61 In addition to a light upper garment the hunter wears a cape held at the chest by a fibula with two circular bosses,62 The end of the cloak flutters out behind, to the viewer's left. The pantaloons, or leggings, are of the same light material as the upper garment and are brought together at the base by a circular clasp, while straps pass under the arch of the foot, holding the leggings in place. Short ribbons are tied at the foot. The surface of the leggings is covered with punched circles arranged in groups of three. With the exception of the headgear this form of dress resembles that of the king on all early Sasanian rock reliefs. The head of the figure on the silver plate is in pure profile to the left, and the square beard, rippling mustache, and long twisted locks have been described in Chapter II where they were compared to those on the medallion busts.63 The representation of a mounted archer with head turned to the left necessitates a view of the back rather than the front of his body. Only a right-profile archer can be portrayed with a complete front view of the torso, a much-preferred position. On the Krasnaya Polyana plate a solution was found by making the hunter lasso rather than shoot with bow and arrow at his quarry. Slung from the belt around the hunter's waist, on his right side, is a strap holding the quiver, full of arrows. The surface of the quiver is divided into three compartments, the top and bottom panels having plant designs and the middle a geometric ornament in the shape of a lozenge. Although the hunter uses a lasso, his compound bow hangs over his left shoulder, the bottom half disappearing behind the horse.
The horse is, in this instance, complete. A ball, possibly of curled hair, is drawn up above the head, and the mane, cut short, is apparently trimmed in a curving line. Both these features are to be seen on the early Sasanian reliefs.64 The horse's ear lies flattened down against the skull. The form of the bridle is difficult to detect, but the leather reins appear to be attached to sections of chain leading to the actual bit.65 Across the chest and rump are elaborate circular phalerae from which tiny bells are suspended, chased onto the surface of the vessel. Chains, stretching from the back of the square saddle blanket, hold oval balls of hair that rise above the horse's rump.66 The wide border of the square blanket is decorated with a punched design of circular rosettes. A small ribbon extends backward from the bottom rear edge of the blanket. As noted on the Shemakha plate (Pl. 8), a guard comes up over the rider's leg. The tail of the horse is knotted in a fashion similar to, but simpler than, that of the Shemakha plate.
The poses of the bears differ. The fleeing bear has both forepaws raised upward, while the hind legs are spread apart. The lasso encircles one hind leg and the body. The head of this bear is reversed so that it faces the hunter. Although captured the animal would appear to be alive. The horizontally outstretched bear
59. Harper in Frye, Qasr-i Abu Nasr, p. 66. On impression D103 a row of palmettes, more stylized than those on the cap of the Krasnaya Polyana hunter, can be seen.
60. On the relief of Shapur I at Naqsh-i Radjab a number of these signs can be seen: Hinz, Altiranische Funde, p. 142. See also Bivar, "Details and 'Devices' from the Sassanian Sculptures," pp. 11-14; Nickel, "Tamgas and Runes, Magic Numbers and Magic Symbols," pp. 165-173.
61. G÷bl, Sas. Num., pls. 1-6; Hinz, Altiranische Funde, pls. 74, 120, 126.
62. For a discussion of this type of clasp as characteristic of early Sasanian sculptures and gems, see Borisov and Lukonin Sas. Gemmy, pp. 14, 15, figs. 1, 2.
63. See Chapter II, p. 29.
64. The same round forelock appears on the horses in relief II of Shapur I at Bishapur (Ghirshman numbering), on the battle relief of Ardashir I at Firuzabad, and on the battle relief of Hormizd II at Naqsh-i Rustam: Ghirshman, BîchÔpour I, pl. 14; Hinz, Altiranische Funde, pls. 51, 133b.
The cut of the mane appears to be related to that on a number of early Sasanian reliefs, notably those of Shapur I at Naqsh-i Radjab and at Darab: Hinz, Altiranische Funde, pls. 73, 91.
65. I am grateful to Mary V. Littauer for her suggestion concerning the actual form of the bit.
66. The large circular phalerae on the harness straps and the chains with balls of hair occur in Parthian and Palmyrene art. For the phalerae, see Rostovtzeff, Dura-Europos . . . Fourth Season, pl. 21, 3; Fifth Season, pls. 35, 4; 36, 3; Seventh and Eighth Seasons, pl. 14. For the hair tassels, see idem, Dura-Europos . . . Fourth Season, pl. 17; Fifth Season pl. 36; Seventh and Eighth Seasons pl. 56. 2. For comments on these trappings as characteristic of Parthian and Palmyrene art, see Rostovtzeff, "Dura and the Problem of Parthian Art," p. 251, figs. 57, 78.
beneath the horse is certainly dead. Details characteristic of death are the open mouth with protruding tongue, the forelegs spread apart, and the closed eye. Most of the surface of both animal bodies is covered with rows of crescentic punches intended to depict their fur. This pattern is omitted only on the paws and on the inner surface of the legs.
Some areas on the Krasnaya Polyana plate are in higher relief than others and consist of pieces added to the background shell. Published descriptions state that the plate is cast, and that the joins of the mold are clearly visible on the back surface.67 This is not the case. The vessel was hammered and worked in the standard Sasanian fashion. The scene is partially gilded, and gilding also covers the thickened part of the rim on the interior. On the design, the gilding covers certain portions of the human drapery and equipment, parts of the horse and the harness trappings, and various areas on the bodies of the animal quarry. Within the ring foot are two concentric circles and a centering mark.
It is a point of some importance that the equestrian figures on the Shemakha and Krasnaya Polyana plates are shown with their heads in pure profile to the left. On the medallion bowls discussed in the preceding chapter, the figures, royal and nonroyal, are, in contrast, in profile to the right, the customary view for Sasanian kings on their coins and for Sasanian personages on seal impressions. In the following descriptions of the hunting plates it will be apparent that the king is always portrayed in right profile. This preference of the Sasanians for the right profile position of the head probably reflects their desire to make a clear break with the royal imagery of their Arsacid predecessors, who were depicted on the coins in left profile.
How does one explain the left profile heads of the figures on the Shemakha and Krasnaya Polyana plates? There is no clear answer to this question. As late as the reign of Bahram II (276-293), the Sasanian king was portrayed in a hunting scene, on the Sar Meshed relief, in left profile. It is evident therefore that in this early period no set form existed for royal representations except on coins. However, the use of the left profile on the Shemakha and Krasnaya Polyana plates distinguishes the images from those on all other early Sasanian vessels.
67. Fajans, "Recent Literature," p. 61. The heavy weight of this vessel in comparison to others that are hammered may have led to the belief that the plate is cast.
A second point of importance that has emerged from this study is that the products of both the central Sasanian royal workshops and the provincial schools appear to be derived from a Sasanian metal working tradition that can be traced back to the third century A.D. The Sargveshi and Mtskheta vessels (Pls. 1, 2), with portrayals of a Sasanian king and an official respectively, the medallion bowls (Pls. 3-7) from Iran, and the hunting plates from Shemakha and Krasnaya Polyana as well as the Shapur plate in the British Museum (Pls. 8, 9, 13) represent the initial stages from which there developed both of the later stylistic schools. These original models are datable to the third and early fourth centuries, the sequence beginning only a few decades after the establishment of the dynasty.
Source: Plate 9 in Harper, Prudence and Meyers, Pieter Silver Vessels of the Sasanian Period. Volume One: Royal Imagery, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Princeton University Press, New York, 1981