This finial was produced in the era when the
Luristan metal workshops were at their most
prolific, c. 900-600 B.C. Similar designs can be
found on a range of items including horse gear,
axes and hair and clothing pins. These were all
burial items distinguished by the large repertory
of animal motifs, both real and imagined. By this
period bronze was reserved for decorative
artefacts that symbolised social standing among
the communities of the Zagros mountains; more
mundane, utilitarian objects were made of iron.
The hallmark of Luristan wares is the tendency to
elongate the necks, tails and bodies of the
animals to produce graceful curves and arches.
The re-discovery of the splendour of Luristan
metalwork began in the 1930s and made
considerable progress after World War II. The
absence of relevant written records makes their
complex imagery difficult to interpret in specific
religious terms but it is likely that they represent
local deities of some kind. It has been suggested
that such elaborate bronze items must have been
the preserve of the tribal leaders, a warrior class
with the means to equip themselves and their
households for war.
This example belongs to a group known as the
master/mistress of the beasts. The name derives
from the fact that the central human figure is
grasping the necks of the two fantastical
creatures that form a curve on both sides.
Despite the loss of one of the beast heads, this
piece is remarkable for the level of detail. A
second face appears just above the haunch. Also
on this level are two cockerel heads that form a
second set of curves. The animal motifs continue
on the lower half with two small goats clinging to
the sides of the haunch. Below this the figure’s
legs, bent at the knees, create the outline of a
diamond shape. There are two small hoops
above the feet, the purpose of which is unclear.
The stem of the finial is unusually fine with
several bands of notched decoration and small
stylised leaves around the widest section.
Although the exact function of these incredible
objects is unknown, they still impress us with the
sophistication of their design.
For similar examples see G. Markoe ed., Ancient
Bronzes, Ceramics and Seals, (Los Angeles,