The History of Iran Art




In the third millennium a. C., in the northern regions of Iran, that is to say south of the Caspian Sea, emerged of the Iranian populations who spoke a language other than that of the Cassites. They did not arrive suddenly, indeed theirs was a gradual movement that allowed a peaceful and friendly fusion with the native populations of the plateau. Following their appearance, the ancient pottery was abandoned to be replaced by polished and polished ceramic. This people had links to the Hurriti of northern Mesopotamia and Anatolia, which had established the reign of Urartu in present-day Armenia in the thirteenth century. It is not clear, however, whether they came to the plateau from Khorasan, from the Gorgan, or from the territory of Urartu and the Caucasus, since their migratory movement developed over a very long period: the existing documents are not sufficient for a certain reconstruction on the part of the scholars. What is clear, however, is that they established a powerful state in northern Iran, namely in the regions of Mazandaran and Azerbaijan, called the kingdom of Mann or Mannei, and that in the first millennium they left their place to the Medes, another people Iranian and Aryan.
The number of excavations performed is not yet sufficient to give us a satisfactory knowledge of the Mannei, even if they were found, in different points of what was their kingdom, remains of fortresses and palaces. It would seem that the government of Mannei was defeated during a massive attack launched against the Assyrians, and that the defeat was followed by the fire of most of their works. The finds found at different sites of the kingdom are completely heterogeneous. They reveal a Sumerian, Helamitic, Babylonian, Assyrian and Hurrian inspiration, while incorporating important innovations from the blatant Iranian character. Indeed, some of the stories depicted through engravings or embossing on gold objects have not been found anywhere else. The most important objects were found in the area of ​​Marlik, Ziwiyeh and Hasanlu.
In the 1962, during an archaeological expedition led by Ezzatollah Nehgahban, they were found in Marlik, a town located in a place full of waterways in the valley of the river Goharrud, 53 Tombs. These are the tombs of princes and notables of the village. The first tomb has a 5 meter plant for 6, made from thick stone slabs. The other tombs are smaller and measure approximately 1,5 meters for 2. In them various artifacts have been found: some swords, bent, we do not know why; arrowheads equipped with blades, characteristics of the plateau and present in the second millennium also in Siyalk, in Talesh and in the Caucasus; a silver teapot inlaid with gold and semi-precious stones; numerous ceramics without decorations, in the shape of a stylized ox, a figure known as "Ox of Amlash" (Fig. 8). In the rest of the tombs, which have different shapes, real treasures have been brought to light: gold objects, silver vessels, weapons, bronze statuettes and ceramics. Some tombs measure 3 meters for 3, and a smaller number of artifacts have been found in them.
The cups and goblets of gold found in the tombs of Marlik, in the fortresses of Hasanlu (Azerbaijan) and Ziwiyeh (Kurdistan), have decorations that can be considered rings of an artistic chain re-emerged later in the Achaemenid and Sassanid art.
We can comment on two gold cups found at Marlik. The first cup is 19 cm high, and has two winged oxen, one on each side, embossed, resting with the legs on either side of a palm tree. The oxen are equipped with large wings, made with admirable precision, and their heads emerge out of the cup, turning towards the observer. The expression of the bovine face is not unlike that of some cows represented in Persepolis. The other cup is taller and its shape is slightly sagged. Its decoration - which takes place on two horizontal lines along the entire circumference - is however made with the same refinement. The position of the head and the neck of the oxen is similar to that of the cup described above, with the difference that in this case the two animals are moving one behind the other and the space between them is filled by some flowers, which they look like dog roses. The structure of these oxen is similar to that of the stylized oxen on the quivers found at Sorkh Dam in Luristan (Fig. 9).
Always dating back to this period, perhaps slightly later, it is a gold cup found in Kalardasht, in Mazandaran, which has two overlapping lions on the circumference, the heads of which were made separately and nailed to the cup at a later time. The patterns and decorations are simpler and have some relationship with Hasanlu cups (Fig. 10). These two cups and the one found at the Louvre, which comes from this same area or from its vicinity, have some similarities. The Louvre, known as the "cup of north-western Iran", shows two lion-like demons gripping the hind legs of two gazelles with their claws; the demons-lion have two heads, the legs in coils like snakes and the claws of a bird of prey. Although the style is different from that of the Marlik oxen, due to its inclination to abstraction rather than to realism, the refinement of the realization and the decorations on the upper margin, make the cup similar to the previous ones, allowing to deduce that date back to the same period . Also among the motifs of contemporary Elam is that of the two-headed lion-demon, but it is here for the first time that the paws and claws are represented in this way.
Another cup that deserves attention, realized in the same vivid and historiated style, is that found in Hasanlu, in eastern Azerbaijan. The cup is high 20,6 cm. and the diameter of the opening is 28 cm., and is preserved in the archaeological museum of Tehran. It seems that when the fortress of Hasanlu was focused, the cup fell from the hands of someone who was carrying it with it, and for this it deformed. The drawings on the cup are not very realistic and, although they are quite thick, do not have a particularly significant composition. Its appeal lies in the power of small and vivid drawings. The decorations are developed on two rows separated by lines; they represent mythological tales, whose origin is still unknown to us, but they present clear relationships with Urartu's Hurrian art. Here we can see the image of a warrior who vigorously supports an arch at the foot, an image that will appear again in the meda and achemenid art. An interesting part of the theme represents a man who calls the rescue of a hero from the back of a three-headed dragon, whose body turns into the lower part into rocks; there is also an eagle carrying a woman in the sky. In the highest part of the scene are represented three gods seated on chariots, two of which are pulled by mules, and the third by an ox. In front of the ox there is a standing priest, with a sculpted head and face, holding a cup in his hand. Two men are following the priest carrying two lambs to sacrifice. The three gods are probably the god of the air, on the ox-drawn cart, the god of the earth, with horns, and the sun god, who seems to have a winged sun disk on his head.
The design on the other side of the cup is less clear than the first. It was probably partially erased in the fall and its clarity was compromised. In the main image you can see elements that are absolutely Iranian, such as the way the arch is wielded by the hero, or the goddess with the mirror in his hand behind the lion. On the mane and on the lion's face there is a broken cross, which is also found on the lion of Kalardasht, which shows that the two works were made in the same kingdom. The commentary on the remaining parts of the cup is not fundamental, so we will mention directly to the zoomorphic pottery and bronze vessels.
The ceramics have above all animal forms, in particular gibbos and lacking decorations. The shape of the body of the oxen shows that they consisted of several parts each made on the lathe and then joined together. The color of the ceramic is red or dark brown. The parts of the animals are made in such a way that it seems that the artists had a fairly advanced knowledge of the proportions. In addition to zoomorphic ceramics, ceramic statuettes have been found of undressed women, small in size, not very different from those of the Neolithic period, however much more vivid and expressive. The exaggerated elements of their body suggest that they are of the same age as the oxen of Marlik and Amlash.
Another treasure that is also very likely from the Mannei, and if it is not of the Mannei and their neighboring Allipi, is that of Ziwiyeh. The Manners, the Allips, the Cassites, Lullubi and the Guti, in the third millennium populated the west and the center of Iran and had relations with the inhabitants of south-western Iran, ie with Susa and Elam, and with the Iranians of Fars and Kerman; the mutual influences between these peoples determined Ziwiyeh's great variety of artistic treasures. We must also bear in mind the great influence exerted by Mesopotamia, the Assyrians, the Hittites and the kingdom of Urartu.
Ziwiyeh is a small town located twenty kilometers east of Saqqaz, the second city of Kurdistan and when it was discovered its treasure, ie in the 1947, it was only a village among the numerous Kurdish villages. The treasure was buried under one of the walls of the citadel, a wall that was seven and a half meters thick and was built with 34 × 34,9 cm bricks. The fortress had three floors, the third higher than the others. Given the great variety of pieces, styles and decorations of the treasure, it is likely that during an attack on the fortress (probably brought by the Assyrians, the Medes or the Saka) the defenders buried it under a wall to save it. The fortress has a main building that has the same characteristics as the fortresses of the Elam. It has remained a portal with three stone pedestals used to support wooden columns, which were plastered and decorated. This type of portal is present in the representations of temples engraved on the cylindrical seals of the third and second millennium.
We said that the fortress was probably the work of Mannei, since the area in which it stands, in the first millennium and particularly in the eighth and seventh centuries, which corresponds to the era of most of the artifacts found in the fortress, was part of the Kingdom of Mannei . The ceramics found in large quantities were small pottery that are also spent at the Medes. Also red or pink ceramics have been found, decorated, which have as decoration a kneeling ox in front of a plant, repeated several times. Although the pattern of the ox is Assyrian, the vestment on the neck is not Assyrian and the shape of the plant is nowhere to be found in Mesopotamia, or in Asia Minor or Elam.
Most of the objects in this treasure were stowed in large tubs or clay pools with wide edges, on which a row of Assyrian officers is engraved (recognizable by their clothes). The officers lead a group of natives, wearing hats with their heads pointing backwards, carrying gifts in an attitude of submission. On the sides of the tanks there are vertical bronze strips, decorated with images of gazelles and roses. The tanks were used in a building that resembles a hot water cistern.
The tubs were used to contain tolls and shutters, and it is rather unlikely that they were coffins, since coffins of this form did not exist in the whole of the Near East. The figure of the tribute bearers is drawn in the manner of the Medes and the Saka, and if we look particularly at the shape of their headgear, we can identify them with the Saka of eastern Iran, which were in the sphere of influence of the Medes and Manners. It was the Saka who came to the aid of the Medes in the seventh century, when they overthrew the Assyrian government, violently dominating their territory for 28 years. Among the objects worthy of mention there is an ivory statuette representing an officer or a captain dressed to the Assyrian, executed with precision and refinement. Although the beard and hair are styled similar to the Assyrian style and the dress is undoubtedly completely Assyrian, face, forehead, eyes, lips, mouth and nose are definitely Iranian. Probably this tall statuette 20 cm. represents a mannequin dressed to the Assyrian, surely the regent of the fortress. Behind the statuette are signs of burning, even if there are no signs of fire in the fortress. Other ivory objects, decorated and engraved, were found in which Assyrian officers and soldiers in parade are represented.
Another line of the inscriptions of these fragments of ivory, above which there are soldiers, presents heroes fighting with lions and other mythological animals. A hero pushes a small shield that resembles a boxing glove on the mouth of a lion, while he is about to hit the animal at the heart with a spear. This type of spearhead is not present among Assyrian representations, and this suggests that it was a Mannei production. The Manners, who for centuries had placed themselves under the protection of the Assyrians just to be safe from them, had borrowed the artistic forms assire by making their own innovations, probably in a conscious way and so that their works were more salable on the Assyrian market.
Another fragment of ivory shows the image of two chamois on two sides of a sacred tree, which is very similar to the trees represented in Urartu. It is a palm with flowered spirals arranged in a net, with flowers similar to water lilies and dog roses. There are many similarities between the images of Ziwiyeh and those of the Hasanlu fortress in Azerbaijan, but it seems that those of Hasanlu are much older, as they are performed with greater care.
In the archaeological museum of Tehran a gold pendant dating from the Ziwiyeh of the VIII / VII centuries is exhibited. C., with the image of bull-men carrying a winged sun disk, along with half-bull half-lion beings, and half lion-half eagle, embossed. In the two thin edges of the pendant is represented an animal that is certainly a Saka form, and this is a proof that at the beginning of the first millennium in the territories of Mannei lived and exercised a certain influence also the Saka and the Medes. In the Metropolitan Museum of New York a beautiful gold bracelet is displayed that deserves attention. The two heads of the bracelet depict two lion heads, one fixed and the other moving. The actual bracelet is decorated with images of sleeping lions.
We have here described in general the set of objects found at Ziwiyeh, which includes more than two hundred pieces, many of which are reproduced in photos in most of the archeology manuals.

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