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Steel peacock

 

Height: 89.000 cm

Gift of Mr Imre Schwaiger of Calcutta and Simla, through the National Art Collections Fund, in memory of the Imperial Durbar

ME OA 1912.7-16.1

Room 34: The Islamic world

    Steel peacock

    Iran, 19th century AD

    With two turquoises as eyes

    This fine steel peacock may have decorated the cross-bar of an calam, a standard carried during religious festivals in Iran. One of the most important of these is Ashura, in honour of Husayn, the third Shi'i Imam and son of cAli (the fourth caliph and first Shi'i Imam) and Fatima (daughter of the Prophet Muhammad), who was martyred in AD 680 in the desert area of Karbala. cAli and his two sons, Hasan and Husayn, are depicted in the central medallion on the peacock's fanned tail. The bird is also engraved with stylized inscriptions, princely hunting scenes, human busts and animals in a style typical of the Qajar period (1771-1924) in Iran.

    Peacocks were symbols of beauty and the pleasures of the court throughout the Islamic world. The birds were often allowed to wander around the gardens of noblemen and models of peacocks ornamented the famous Peacock Throne taken from India to Iran by Nadir Shah in 1739. They also had a strong association with Shi'i and Sufi iconography.

    At the time of its acquisition by The British Museum the peacock was thought to represent Ahriman, the 'devil' of Iranian mythology and was associated with the Yazidi devil worshippers, a small sect found in Kurdistan.

    R. Ward, Islamic metalwork (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)

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