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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Archive : Scythian Gold Ram with Turquoise Inlay
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Scythian Gold Ram with Turquoise Inlay - LO.1416 (LSO)
Origin: Central Asia
Circa: 600 BC to 400 BC
Dimensions: 2" (5.1cm) high x 4" (10.2cm) wide
Collection: Near Eastern Art
Medium: Gold
Condition: Extra Fine

Additional Information: SOLD

Location: Great Britain
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This astonishingly beautiful gold ram was made by – or for – the Scythians, a semi-nomadic Central Asian group who originated in Iran but roamed across much of the Ukraine, Russia and the Pontic Steppe from about 1000 BC through the period of classical antiquity. They are known historically from Greek records, and archaeologically on the basis of their extravagantly ornate metalwork in burial mounds from above Greece all the way to Central Asia. They appear in the historical sources of other peoples – including the Assyrians, who they tried to invade in 770 BC, and the Persians, who tried to return the favour in 512 BC – but have left no written evidence of their own. Socially they are hard to assess, given the fairly mobile nature of their way of life, although there is epigraphic and graphic evidence of their appearance and some of their customs. Inevitably, their funeral behaviour is well understood, as is their technology, which was often acquired or commissioned from settled communities. Their main period of prosperity was in the second half of the first millennium BC, fading away in the face of competition from the Sarmantians and the Celts, then attacks by the Goths, at the turn of the millennium.

They were by all accounts a martial and fierce people, much associated with noble barbarism, where women fought alongside men (seemingly with similar status) and both sexes were regularly tattooed with zoomorphic designs that also appear in their artwork (and also on their frozen bodies – see the Pazyryk tombs). As a mobile way of life was not conducive to metalworking or other craft/art pursuits, most Scythian masterworks – of which there are an inordinate number – were designed by the Scythians but actually made by the Greeks. These include jewellery, horse harnesses and weapons, and also a large proportion of works in gold, which were highly valued and viewed as status symbols. It is from the imagery on these items that the Scythians gain their glamorous if sanguineous reputation.

The Scythians were obsessed with horses, which were after all the foundation of their lifestyle. However, their iconography demonstrates a regard for all nature of animals and human forms as illustrated by the current piece. The figure depicts a reclining ram with its right foreleg extended and the other tucked alongside its body. While relaxed, it is also alert, with raised head and wide-open eyes. The ground is smooth and flawless gold, with the eyes, nostrils, mouth and facial contours all crisply defined. The horns and ears demonstrate exceptional detail, with even the growth rings on the horns being clearly visible. Tiny marks detailing the position of the vertebrae are also visible on the back of the piece. The animal in question is unusual in that it is wearing a triple-banded collar with linear and circular decoration, and more so for the pair of inlaid turquoises on the front of the piece and the single stone on the right shoulder. The role of such an object is hard to identify, although it is hollow beneath with a metal rod protruding. This could have been used to secure it to a piece of leatherware associated with harnesses or similar (this is the most probable option, given the Scythians’ mobile lifestyles). Not dissimilar pieces have been found across the range of the group, but the animals favoured are usually deer, boar, horses and lions. Further, the piece is unusually refined and naturalistic, and evokes the best aspects of Greek sculpture just as much as it evokes the greatest of Scythian style. The significance of this piece is unknown, but for all intents and purposes it would appear to be unique. This is a world-class piece of ancient art, and is destined to find a place with the most discerning of collectors. - (LO.1416 (LSO))


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