- Museum number
Leaded copper alloy figure of a winged beast (possibly a lion gryphon); standing position; vigorously modelled head; curved horns with truncated ends; a wing springs from each shoulder; stylised acanthus leaf decoration on chest; tail in the form of a ring. The figure was cast on a clay core, and then extensively worked, in particular most of the surface of the body was systematically roughened with a point or chisel apparently to create the impression of fur or hair. Vertical holes through the front paws; brief incised nastaliq inscription added later to rear left flank.
- Production date
- 1stC-2ndC (?)
Height: 24.90 centimetres
Length: 32 centimetres
Thickness: 12.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- The date of the object has attracted radically different views: 4th-1st century BC with influences of Achaemenid, Scythian and Greek art (Read 1913a; O M Dalton 1964, 'Catalogue of the Oxus Treasure', T. Talbot Rice 1965, 'Ancient Arts of Central Asia', London, pp 138-39, fig. 125), possibly either Indo-Greek or Sasanian (J Boardman 1994, 'Diffusion of Classical Art', pp. 140-41, fig. 4.85, "not readily placed"), 4th century AD (1975 Iranian Room label, followed by J Rawson 1977, 'Animals in Art', p. 75, pl. 109), Sasanian (D Shepherd in 'Cambridge History of Iran', vol. 3/2, p. 1095, pl. 100c; V Curtis 1993, 'Persian Myths', p. 12; G52/IRAN label), possibly 7th-8th century AD (P O Harper et al. 1978, 'The Royal Hunter', p. 99, fig. 35c; J E Curtis 1989, 'Ancient Persia', p. 68, fig. 82). It is now resolved by the publication of a rug with identical design said to have been found in the Samangan area of northern Afghanistan which is radiocarbon dated to AD 290 +/- 25.
The authenticity is confirmed by a TL test on core material which also supports a 1st rather than 2nd millennium AD date.The decoration on the chest points to a Partho-Sasanian date.
This figure has been interpreted as a "bronze monster, possibly symbolising Ahriman, the power of darkness and evil" (Iranian Room exhibition label), i.e. Angra Mainyu, the Evil Spirit of Zoroastrian belief (V Curtis 1993, 'Persian Myths', p. 12; P Strathern 1993, 'The Silk and Spice Routes: Exploration by Land', p. 27).
The stylised leaf decoration on the chest is closely paralleled on figural copper alloy Roman and "Sasanian" furniture legs (the latter most likely somewhat earlier, i.e. Parthian). The profile of the tail is similar to handles on Roman skyphoi and some post-Sasanian metalwork and ceramics ('Survey of Persian Art', vol. IV, pl. 222B, vol. VI, pl. 1351A; Lukonin 1967a, nos 153, 155, 159-64, 206), and the form has been compared generally to a winged horse motif on Sasanian bullae, e.g. from Takht-i Suleiman (file card, noted by J E Curtis). The inscription was added much more recently and apparently refers to a restoration - hence probably referring to the crude soldering of the wing - and the date at which it was done.
DSR reports with TL examination and metal composition (file 4582) and technical examination of decoration and inscription (file 4822, dated 17 March 1994). XRF on a cleaned area on the underside of the proper right hand paw indicates the metal to contain 80.5% of copper, 12.6% of lead, 6-8% of tin and 0.1% of arsenic (with zinc not detected). Examination of the roughening marks suggests that they respect the edges of the inscription which implies that they were also added at a secondary stage in the history of this object. The metal composition is typical of Late Antique cast bronze generally but would be unusual for the Islamic period where a leaded brass would be more appropriate.
Two attempts have been made by A. Ghouchani (Iran Bastan Museum) on 12 April 1994 and in 2000 (?) at reading the inscription, using photographs and the object held under raking light.
Published: NACF 1914a, 69, no. CXLIX.
- Bibliographic references
Dalton 1964a / The treasure of the Oxus with other examples of early oriental metal-work (p. 49, pl. XXV, cat. no. 194)
Rice TT 1965a / Ancient Arts of Central Asia (pp. 138-39, fig. 125) (Follows Dalton's dating)
Shepherd D (p. 1095, pl. 100c)
Curtis 1993a / Persian Myths (p. 12)
Curtis 1989a / Ancient Persia (p. 68, fig. 82)
Barnett & Wiseman 1960a / Fifty masterpieces of Ancient Near Eastern Art (pp.66-67, no. 31)
Boardman J 1994a / The Diffusion of Classical Art in Antiquity (pp. 140-41, fig. 4.85) ("not readily placed")
Harper P O et al. 1978a / The Royal Hunter: Art of the Sasanian Empire (p. 99, fig. 35c)
Strathern P 1993a / The Silk and Spice Routes. Exploration by Land (p. 27)
Rawson J ed. 1977a / Animals in Art (p. 75, pl. 109)
Curtis 2000a / Ancient Persia (p. 83, fig. 99)
Read 1913a / Essays and Studies presented to William Ridgeway (p. 261)
Verdi R 2003a / Saved! 100 Years of the National Art Collections Fund (cat. 10, p. 84)
Simpson 2012a / Afghanistan. A Cultural History (pp.58-59)
- On display (G52/dc7)
- Exhibition history
2017- BM, G52/IRAN/7
2016, 19 Mar-29 May, National Museum, Delhi, 'The Everlasting Flame'
2013 Oct-Dec, Brunei, SOAS, 'Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination'
2010 24 Sept-31 Dec, Museum of Croydon, 'Dragon Tales'
2007-2017 BM, G52/IRAN/6
2003/4 Oct-Jan, London, Hayward Gallery, 'Saved!100 Years of the National Art Collections Fund', no.10
1995-2005 17 Nov-Aug BM, G52/IRAN/22/19, from official opening
1994 16 Jun-23 Dec BM, G49/IRAN, case 22, no. 18
1977 London, BM, 'Animals in Art'
1975-ca 1990 Jul- BM, Iranian Room [IR] case 22, no. 3
1960s BM, Persian Landing [PL] at top of West Stairs, case 2
1930s BM, Persian Room, wall-case [WC] 15, top shelf
- Traces of wear inside the ring-tail. The proper left wing has broken off at some time in the recent past and been very crudely reattached by applying an iron plate behind which is held by iron pegs. There has been an attempt to disguise the break from the front with a waxy material which is unlikely to be of any great age. This wax coating extends across the whole object but was partially removed in 1994 to enhance legibility of the inscription.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Purchased by the National Art Collections Fund together with a Gandharan disc (Asia 1913,1022.2) for £200 from an Iranian dealer.
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: 0149 (NACF art review number)
Treasure/PAS number: OT.194 (Not part of the Oxus Treasure)