History Of Persian Art

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What is the history and characteristics of Persian art and culture? Information about Persian art periods and history.

PERSIAN ART, Persia has always been one of the major crossroads of world culture. On its soil, many foreign art trends have mixed with the indigenous strains. Its art shows influences not only of Mesopotamia, Armenia, and the steppe country, but also of much more distant regions such as Egypt, India, and China.

Prehistoric Period.—This period is characterized by unglazed painted pottery (jars, bowls, cups) decorated with animal, floral, and geometric symbols. A keen power of observation and stylization is evident in the portrayal of animals, among which the ibexes and birds are the most impressive. The outstanding artistic sites are Persepolis and Susa, but pottery has been found in many other places. The last phase is represented by the finds from Tepe Siyalk, which betray an imitation of metalwork. After the 10th century b.c., painted pottery was no longer made. Rock reliefs from the middle of the third millennium, e.g., at Sarpul and Kur-a.ngun, are a political and religious manifestation in a medium characteristic for Persian art throughout the ages. Seal-carving is another craft destined to continue through the whole gamut of history.

Bronze and Early Iron Age.—Outstanding in this period are the «Luristan bronzes» first found between 1930 and 1934 by natives digging in graves in the Luristan mountain valleys ir, western Iran. These objects are mostly chariot or harness fittings, especially horse-bits, often of large size, and rein rings. There are also many daggers with a blade and hilt made of one piece, axes with a curved blade and long protruding digits at the back, vessels, talismans, personal ornaments, and many other objects. These bronzes represent a long development, the original inspiration of which may often be traced to Mesopotamia. The outstanding decorative forms are animals in which the fantastic and the graceful are strangely combined. They are peculiarly stylized: certain parts of the body, like horns, eyes, or the upper thighs are stressed, while in later times certain parts of the body such as the necks are elongated and gracefully curved. Herzfeld dates these bronzes from about 1300 to after 1000 b.c., while Dus-saud assumes them to last until the Persian period (c.SSO b.c.).

Achaemenid Period.—The rule of the Achaemenid kings (S50-331 b.c.) is preceded by that of the closely related Medes, about whose art, which must have influenced that of the Achaemenidae, we know very little. Achaemenid art is specifically a royal art connected with the courts of the capitals. The first royal residence, Pasargadae, was built by Cyrus between 559 and 550 and contained isolated palaces in gardens. Very little is preserved. The tomb of Cyrus (c.530) is a small gabled stone house on a high stepped base. The most fambus capital, Persepolis, was started by Darius about 520 b.c. and completed by Artaxerxes I about 460. It was apparently used very little but was reserved for special ceremonies. Alexander the Great destroyed the palaces by fire, in 331. The site was excavated by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (under E. Herzfeld and later E. F. Schmidt). Persepolis is a compound of closely set buildings on a fortified terrace at the foot of high mountains northeast of Shiraz. Its main access was through «the most perfect flight of stairs ever built,» usable even for horses, and through a monumental gateway. The palaces were not conceived as an organic whole, so that the buildings are now surrounded by a maze of courtyards with the various units on different levels. All palaces are a development of the Iranian hypostyle house, having a large central hall with many columns, surrounded by optional secondary rooms, and with an open columnar portico front reached by a staircase. The masonry consists of colossal blocks. The ceilings are supported by very slender, narrowly fluted stone columns imitating wooden ones. The columns are topped by large imposts consisting of the forequarters of animals used in pairs; the more important ones have, in addition, a composite capital between shaft and impost. Sculpture is used a great deal, but is always subordinated to the architecture, the main art of the period. The Apadana was used as an audience hall for great state functions. It had two identical staircases displaying in three registers processions of 23 tribute-bearing nations under the supervision of guards and court dignitaries. They follow the Achaemenid custom of utilizing in the decoration such scenes as actually took place on the spot. The other great public structure was the Hall of One Hundred Columns, badly damaged by the fire of Alexander. Smaller palaces are the Trypilon, the Hadish of Xerxes, the Tachara of Darius, and the Harem building (now reconstructed).

Besides Persepolis, Susa was the most important capital; its palaces were also begun by Darius. The French excavations uncovered there one type of decoration not found in Persepolis: wall friezes of enameled bricks showing animals or the royal bodyguard. The inspiration for this work came from the Ishtar Gate in Babylon.

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