- Museum number
Silver plate showing a king hunting lions; judging by his crown the king may be the Sasanian king Varahran V (popularly known as Bahram Gur) (reigned AD 420-438) whose hunting exploits became legendary.
- Production date
Height: 4.50 - 5 centimetres (minus foot ring)
Diameter: 7.20 centimetres (exterior of foot ring)
Diameter: 27.60 centimetres
Weight: 937.30 grammes
- Curator's comments
- A loose copy of this plate was offered for auction by Sotheby's (NY), lot 456, on Friday 2 December 1988, wherein described as "first half of the 20th Century". Three others, of silver and gold, are said to have been made in Rawalpindi and Peshawar: one was acquired through the Paris branch of Feuerdent by the Hermitage (Smirnov 1909, no.55: "modern"), a second was acquired by Hagop Kevorkian in 1937 and a third, of gold, was reported by Smirnov. The weight of the present bowl was published in Brussels catalogue as 936 g. but this is slightly incorrect.
Unpublished Cernuschi catalogue entry
Silver plate showing a Sasanian ruler hunting lions
Possibly acquired in India or Afghanistan
5th - 7th century
H 4.5 - 5.0 (minus foot ring), D 27.6 cm, weight 934.5 g
Smirnov 1909: pl. XXVI; Sarre 1922: pl. 104; Erdmann 1936: 223, pl. 66; Orbeli 1938: vol. I, 728-29, vol. IV, pl. 231A; Haskins 1952: 333-34; Dalton 1964: 61-62, pl. XXXVII, no. 207; Pinder-Wilson 1971: no. 107; Kent & Painter eds 1977: 146, no. 307; Harper et al. 1978: 58-59, fig. 17b; Harper & Meyers 1981: 76-77, 156, 162-63, 176, pl. 25; Marshak 1986: 26, fig. 6; Overlaet ed. 1993: 194-95, no. 53; Sarkhosh Curtis 1993: 23; Wilcox & McBride 1986: 40; Collon 1995: 206; Harper 2000: 51, 54, pl. 23; Masia 2000: 216, 274, fig. 1d.
London, The British Museum, ANE 124092 (1897-12-31,187)
Hammered silver plate with rim defined on the interior with a single engraved line; subsequently detached circular foot ring, now largely missing but indicated by traces of old solder; interior represents the mounted figure of a king brandishing a lion cub in one hand in a manner characteristic of Late Antique hunts. The cub's parents are depicted leaping upwards, one already wounded and the second being slashed with a long straight double-edged pommel-less sword held in the king's right hand. The rider has already discarded his bow but he still carries his decorated tapered box quiver slung from his right thigh; the scabbard is not visible as it would have been slung on the opposite side. Other details are consistent with other Sasanian depictions, such as the decorated bridle, the pair of tasselled balloons rising from the rear of the saddle, and the absence of stirrups. The sword type is also consistent with Sasanian rather than later depictions. The stylised motif at the bottom of the plate was intended to represent hilly terrain. The silver has been analysed by XRF and suggested to have a silver composition of 94.2 – 94.9%, copper content of 4.05 – 4.7%, and 0.5 – 0.7% gold. Neutron activation analysis confirmed a broadly similar composition of 96.4% silver, 3.02% copper and 0.63% gold. These results are consistent with most ancient silver but the minor trace elements distinguishes it from other objects believed to have been made from a so-called "central Sasanian" ore source. The decoration was made by engraving and chasing, and extensive areas of the design were spot gilded, including the crown, chest-girdle, belt, parts of the quiver, vertical trouser folds, horse harness, the horse’s hooves and tail, balloon fittings, and the lions’ bodies. Dots on the interior, including one on the back of the rider’s hand, appear to be remnants from the laying out of the design. There is no centering mark on the underside, nor are there traces of an inscription indicating previous ownership, value or weight. The rider is popularly interpreted as being a representation of the Sasanian king Bahram (Varahran) V (r. 421-439), who was renowned for his hunting exploits, with a scene similar to this described in the Shah-Nameh. However, the rider's crown is beribboned and crenellated, with a crescent on either side and surmounted by a korymbos. This does not exactly match that of Bahram V, or indeed any other Sasanian ruler, each of whom adopted an individual crown on their accession to the throne and which are carefully depicted on their coin portraits. Although at least some of these rulers are known to have had more than one crown type, it is more likely that this plate is a later attempt to glorify the hunting exploits of Sasanian monarchy rather than being a specific portrait: the successful hunt became a metaphor for royal khwarnah (glory and good fortune), and this extended to the owners of the plate. As such, this object has been regarded as provincial Sasanian production of the 5th, 6th or 7th century. The relatively sketchy manner in which the design was executed supports this interpretation, and it shares close stylistic comparisons with an inscribed plate in the Blumka collection which is palaeographically dated between the 5th and mid-7th centuries, and a second example found at Chilek near Samarkand. All of these have silver compositions which suggest they originated from sources other than that used for so-called “central Sasanian” plates as those contain slightly higher amounts of iridium and are presumed to originate within Iran.
This plate was acquired by Major-General Alexander Cunningham (1814-1893) of the Indian army and later Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India. It later passed into the collection of Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks (1826-1897), who bequeathed it to the British Museum. It inspired a number of copies which are said to have been made in Rawalpindi and Peshawar: one was acquired by the Hermitage in the 19th century from the Paris branch of the dealer Feuerdent but recognised by Smirnov (1909: no. 55) as "modern", a second entered the collection of the Armenian dealer-collector Hagop Kevorkian by 1937, and a third version made of gold was also reported by Smirnov (Harper 2000: 54).
- Bibliographic references
Smirnov 1909 / Vostochnoe Serebro (no.54, pl.XXVI)
Sarre F 1922a / Die Kunst des Alten Persien (no.104)
Pope 1938 / Survey of Persian Art (vol. I, 728-29, vol. IV, pl. 231A) (essay by J. Orbeli)
Erdmann 1943 / Die Kunst Irans zur Zeit der Sasaniden (p.223, pl. 66)
Haskins J F 1952a / Northern Origins of 'Sasanian' Metalwork (pp.333-34)
Dalton 1964a / The treasure of the Oxus with other examples of early oriental metal-work (pp.61-62, pl. XXXVII, no. 207)
Pinder-Wilson 1971a / Royal Persia: a commemoration of Cyrus the Great and his successors on the occasion of the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire (no. 107)
Painter K 1977a / Gold and Silver in the Roman World (p.146, no. 307)
Harper P O et al. 1978a / The Royal Hunter: Art of the Sasanian Empire (pp. 58-59, fig. 17b) (cited as comparison for bowl in Blumka collection)
Hughes M J & Hall J A 1979a / X-ray Fluorescence Analyses of Late Roman and Sassanian Silver Plate (p.328, tables 1, 2.5)
Harper P O & Meyers P 1981a / Silver vessels of the Sasanian period: Royal Imagery (pp.76-77, 156, 162-63, 176, pl. 25)
Marshak B 1986a / Silberschätze des Orients, Metallkunst des 3.-13. Jahrhunderts und ihre Kontinuität (p.26, fig.6)
Curtis 1993a / Persian Myths (p. 23) (illustration)
Overlaet B 1993a / Splendeur des Sassanides. L'empire perse entre Rome et la Chine [224-642] (pp. 194-95, no. 53) (cat. entry by Overlaet)
Wilcox P & McBride A 1994a / Rome's Enemies, 3: Parthians and Sassanid Persians (p. 40) (illustration)
Collon 1995a / Ancient Near Eastern Art (p. 206, fig. 172)
Curtis 2000a / Ancient Persia (p.81, fig. 93)
Curtis 2000b / Mesopotamia and Iran in the Parthian and Sasanian Periods: Rejection and Revival c. 238 BC - AD 642 (Proceedings of a Seminar in memory of Vladimir G. Lukonin) (pl.23)
Harper P O 2000a / Sasanian Silver Vessels: The Formation and Study of Early Museum Collections (p.23, pl.51) (regarded as 5th-6thC provincial Sasanian)
Bowden 2002a / The Times Ancient Civilizations (p.141) (illustrated)
Farrokh K 2005a / Sassanian Elite Cavalry AD 224-642 (p.18)
Demange F 2007a / Les Perses sassanides. Fastes d'un empire oublié (224-642) (cat.31, pp.91-92) (entry by St John Simpson)
Curtis & Tallis 2012 / The Horse from Arabia to Ascot (127)
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2012 24 May - 30 Sep, London, BM, 'The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot'
2010 22 Nov-2011 10 Feb, BM, Gallery 68, case 10
2010 29 May-15 Oct, USA, Kentucky Horse Park, 'A Gift from the Desert'
2007- BM, Rahim Irvani Gallery for Ancient Iran, case 6
2006 14 Sept-30 Dec, Paris, Cernuschi Museum, 'Les Perses Sassanides ou les Fastes d'un empire oublié'
2005 Sept-2006 Jan, London, BM, 'Forgotten Empire'
2004 26 Jun-29 Aug, Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 10 Apr-13 Jun, Fukuoka Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 17 Jan-28 Mar, Kobe City Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2003 18 Oct-14 Dec, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
1997, BM, 'Heirs of Rome'
1995-2005 17 Nov-, BM, G52/IRAN/22/3
1994 16 Jun-23 Dec, BM, G49/IRAN, case 22, no. 3
1994 15 Jan-10 Apr, Italy, Rome, Palazzo Delle Esposizioni, La Seta e La Sua Via - The Silk and its Route
1993 12 Feb-25 Apr, Belgium, Brussels, Musée Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Splendeur des Sassanides / Hofkunst Van des Sassanieden, no.53
1985 28 Mar-12 May, London, Commonwealth Institute, Animal Regalia CANCELLED
1975-ca 1990 BM, Iranian Room, [IR], case 21, no. 1
1971, BM, 'Royal Persia: a commemoration of Cyrus the Great and his successors on the occasion of the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire'
Persian Landing, case 3
- Acquisition date
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: AF.187
Miscellaneous number: OT.187 (1st ed. of catalogue)
Miscellaneous number: OT.207 (2nd ed. of catalogue)