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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Sassanid Art : Sasanian Alabaster Plate with Royal Hunting Scene
Sasanian Alabaster Plate with Royal Hunting Scene - GM.0022
Circa: 3 rd Century AD to 6 th Century AD
Dimensions: 16" (40.6cm) wide x 2.5" (6.4cm) depth
Medium: Alabaster
Condition: Very Fine

Location: Great Britain
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This large alabaster plate bears a representation of one of the most famous iconographies in Sasanian Art: the royal hunting. A king rides fiercely his horse at full gallop, while shooting an arrow from a large bow at a lion that mightily rises before him. Another lion, probably already slain, lies on the ground at the bottom of the scene. The king is richly clothed with a finely decorated tunic, bejewelled with armbands and earrings. He bears a quiver strapped across his chest. His crown is decorated with a palmette or flower-shaped orb, feathers and long bands which flow freely behind his head enhancing the impression of movement and speed of the figure. The peculiar shape of the crown allows to propose possible identifications with Hormazd I (r. 224–241 AD), Narseh I (r. 293–302), or Ardashir II (r. 379–383). Among these identifications, Narseh I or Ardashir II are more probable, as Sasanian rulers started to be portrayed with earrings on their coinage only from the reign of Bahram II (r. 274–293). Another element to consider for a possible identification is the fact that the iconography of the royal hunt becomes more common from the reign of Shapur II (310–379 AD) onward.

The royal hunting was a very important motif in the iconography of Sasanian rulers. This subject embodied visually the great might and power of the kings, their ability to protect their kingdom in battle, and their prowess at hunting (particularly important for kings such as Bahram V who greatly favoured this sport). The subject is commonly represented on silver vessels of small dimension. His appearance on a large alabaster plate is of exceptional rarity and great fascination. It is entirely possible that this plate was a model or prototype to produce metal vessels for the Sasanian elite, which could then show their allegiance and link to the king. These plates were also sent often as gifts to neighbouring courts.

The closest comparable, both for iconography and for the features of the King (as identified by the crown) is a plate kept at the Azerbaijan Museum, Tabriz, Iran. Other examples of royal hunting scenes are a plate with king hunting rams at the Metropolitan Museum (Fletcher Fund, n. 34.33), and another plate at the British Museum (n. 124092) where the king was identified as Bahram V.

Bibliography: Prudence Oliver Harper 1981, ‘Silver Vessels of the Sasanian Period, Vol. 1: Royal Imagery’, Metropolitan Museum of Art, published in association with Princeton University Press. - (GM.0022)


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