- Museum number
Gilded silver plate with low foot-rim and centering mark on the underside; single line engraved around the outside of the rim, with a second engraved line defining the interior; hammered and lathe-turned, then decorated; interior shows a senmurw (a legendary dog-headed bird) facing left, a leaf hanging from its mouth; neck and lower portion of the wing are punched with an imbricated design; the breast is enriched with a foliated motif; the tail feathers are conventionally rendered by punching, the lowest portion concealed by a bold scroll in relief; below the tail, a branch of foliage projects into the field; the foliate border is composed of overlapping leaves, on each of which are punched three divergent stems surmounted by berries in groups of three. Old corrosion attack on part of the underside. Condition of gilding suggests that this is re-gilding.
- Production date
- 7thC-8thC (?)
Diameter: 18.80 - 19.10 centimetres (rim)
Diameter: 7.30 centimetres (exterior, foot-ring)
Diameter: 6.80 centimetres (interior, foot-ring)
Height: 3.80 centimetres
Weight: 541.50 grammes
Volume: 450 millilitres
- Curator's comments
ANE Correspondence 1995 (Amrolia: replica made).
NACF 1923, 40, no. 402 description
402 Sassanian dish
Silver dish, parcel gilt, in the late Sassanian style, decorated with the characteristic monster frequently seen on silk textiles and in rock-sculptures of the Sassanian period, for example at Takt-i-Bostan. It is represented in flat relief, the design having been separately executed and then soldered to the base in the manner usually adoptd by Persian silver-smiths. If not actually made before the fall of the Sassanian monarchy, it must date from the early years of Islam in Central Asia, and is a work of fine decorative quality, forming an interesting addition to the series of Sassanian silver vessels already in the British Museum.
Diameter, 7.6 inches; height, 1.6 inches.
Reproduced in the Burlington Magazine, Vol. L, 1922, p. 69.
Purchased by the National Art-Collections Fund for £75, and presented to the Department of British and Mediaeval Antiquities, British Museum
Unpublished Cernuschi catalogue entry
Gilded silver plate with "senmurw"
Acquired in India
7th - early 9th century
H 3.8, D 18.8 – 19.1 cm, capacity 450 ml, weight 540 g
Dalton 1922; National Art Collections Fund 1923: 40, no. 402; 1928: 43, 194, 199, no. 402; Orbeli 1938: vol. I, 737-38, vol. IV, pl. 227; Barrett 1949: pl. 1; Dalton 1964: 66, pl. XL, no. 210; Ghirshman 1962: 219, fig. 260; Thompson 1976: 30, 102, nn. 42, 46; Kent & Painter eds 1977: 151, no. 317; Curtis 1989: 67, fig. 80; Gray 1991: 62; Sarkhosh Curtis 1993: 22; Overlaet ed. 1993: 221-22, no. 71; Cherry ed. 1995: 180; Collon 1995: 209, fig. 175; Curtis 2000: 82, fig. 95; Harper 2000: 51, col. pl. IX; Kröger 1999: 201-202, pl. XXVIII; Kröger 2002: 153; Verdi ed. 2003: 101, no. 23
London, The British Museum, ANE 124095 (1922-3-8,1)
Hammered gilt silver plate with a low circular foot ring measuring 7.3 cm. across at the base; centering mark and extensive traces of old corrosion attack on the underside; single line engraved around the outside of the rim, with a second engraved line defining the interior. The plate was made by hammering, and decorated through a combination of chasing and punching, with thick gilding over the background. Early published references to the raised portion being embossed separately and added with solder are incorrect, and only the foot ring is soldered on. XRF analysis indicates that the body has a composition of 92% silver, 6.9% copper and 0.45% gold, and the foot has a slightly different composition of 93.4% silver, 5.4% copper and 0.5% gold. The decoration is limited to the interior and shows a composite animal with a dog's head, short erect mane, vertical tufted ears and lion's paws, facing left with a foliate spray dangling from its open mouth like a lolling tongue; a ruff-like circle of hair or fur frames its face; the neck, muscular shoulders and lower tail feathers are punched with an imbricated or overlapping wave design resembling feathers or scales; the breast is enriched with a foliated motif; a pair of wings with forward curling tips rise vertically from behind the shoulders, with a broad rounded peacock-like tail behind decorated with a bold foliate scroll and conventionally rendered by punching; below the tail, a second branch of foliage projects into the field. The foliate border is composed of overlapping leaves, on which are punched three divergent stems surmounted by berries in groups of three.
This plate is said to have been obtained in India prior to 1922 when it was purchased in London by the National Art Collections Fund on behalf of the British Museum. It is usually attributed to the 7th, 8th or early 9th century, thus is post-Sasanian, Umayyad or early Abbasid in political terms. Initially described as a hippocamp, peacock-dragon or peacock-griffin, most scholars follow Trever's (1938) identification of this as a senmurw (New Persian simurgh), or Avestan Saena bird (cf. also Schmidt 1980). The iconographic features of a senmurw include the head of a snarling dog, the paws of a lion and the tail of a peacock, with the addition of the plant motifs on the tail or hanging out of the mouth being allusions to its role in regenerating plants. This bird is described in Pahlavi literature as nesting "on the tree without evil and of many seeds" (Menog-i Xrad 61.37-42), and scattering them in the rainy season to encourage future growth (Bundahišn XVI.4). For this reason it was believed to bestow khwarnah (glory and good fortune), and particularly that of the Kayanids, the legendary ancestors of the Sasanians. This motif is first attested in a datable Sasanian context on the rock-cut grotto of Khusrau II (r. 591-628) at Taq-i Bustan, when it appears within embroidered roundels decorating the royal gown. The same motif recurs within a repeating pattern of conjoined pearl roundels depicted on silks from the reliquary of St Lupus and a tomb at Mochtchevaja Balka in the north Caucasus, a press-moulded glass inlay and vessel appliqué in the Corning Museum of Glass, metalwork, Sogdian murals, and the late Umayyad palace façade at Mshatta (e.g. Harper et al. 1978: 136, no. 60; Trever & Lukonin 1987: 115, pl. 73, no. 26; Overlaet ed. 1993: 270, 275-77, nos 119, 127-28). However, there are significant differences of detail between all of these, and a little caution is necessary before making definite attributions of iconography, date or provenance. Many of the features are also repeated on the depiction of a horned quadruped depicted on a 7th century plate in the Hermitage (Trever & Lukonin 1987: 117-18, pl. 106, no. 36); most recently, Jens Kröger has reiterated the possibility of an early Abbasid date for the present plate, and observed that the distinctive decoration on the tail resembles the split palmette motifs on early Abbasid and Fatimid rock crystal.
- Bibliographic references
Dalton 1964a / The treasure of the Oxus with other examples of early oriental metal-work (p. 66, pl. XL, no. 210) (not part of the Oxus Treasure)
Barrett 1949a / Islamic metalwork in the British Museum (pl. 1)
Collon 1995a / Ancient Near Eastern Art (pp. 209, fig. 175) (typo caption as 7thC BC)
Ghirshman R 1962a / Iran: Parthians and Sassanians (p. 219, fig. 260 (top))
Curtis 1989a / Ancient Persia (p. 67, fig. 80)
Curtis 2000a / Ancient Persia (p. 82 fig. 95) (regarded as 7thC AD)
Overlaet B 1993a / Splendeur des Sassanides. L'empire perse entre Rome et la Chine [224-642] (pp. 221-22, no. 71) (colour photo; cat. entry by Overlaet)
Curtis 1993a / Persian Myths (p. 22) (regarded as 7th-8thC AD)
Cherry 1995 / Mythical Beasts (p. 180)
Pope 1938 / Survey of Persian Art (vol. I, 737-38, vol. IV, pl. 227) (essay by Orbeli)
Strathern P 1993a / The Silk and Spice Routes. Exploration by Land (p. 6) (illustration)
Gray B 1991a / Post-Sasanian Metalwork (p. 62) (brief discussion of iconography)
NACF 1928a / Twenty-Five Years of the National Art-Collections Fund (pp. 43, 194 (pl.), 199, no. 402)
Verdi R 2003a / Saved! 100 Years of the National Art Collections Fund (cat. 23, p. 101)
Hughes M J & Hall J A 1979a / X-ray Fluorescence Analyses of Late Roman and Sassanian Silver Plate (p.328, table 2.5)
NACF 1923 / Nineteenth Annual Report 1922 (p.40, no.402)
Kröger J 1999a / Vom flügelpaar zur flügelpalmette. Sasanidische motive in der Islamischen Kunst (pl.XXVIII.3)
Kröger J 2002a / The Samarra Bowl with the half-palmette animals reconsidered
Harper P O 2000a / Sasanian Silver Vessels: The Formation and Study of Early Museum Collections (p.51, col.pl.IX) (7thC AD, possibly post-Sasanian)
Kent & Painter 1977 / Wealth of the Roman World. Gold and Silver, AD 300-700 (p.151, no.317)
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) (col.pl.IX)
Demange F 2007a / Les Perses sassanides. Fastes d'un empire oublié (224-642) (cat.55, pp.114-15) (entry by St John Simpson)
- On display (G52/dc7)
- Exhibition history
2016-2017, 21 Oct-21 Apr, Perth, Australia, Western Australian Museum, “Travellers and Traders in the Indian Ocean World”
2013 24 Oct-2014 27 April, BM, G69a, 'Wise men from the East: Zoroastrian traditions in Persia and beyond'
2006 14 Sept-30 Dec, Paris, Cernuschi Museum, 'Les Perses Sassanides ou les Fastes d'un empire oublié'
2005 29 Jun-2006 8 Jan, BM, G69a, 'Iran before Islam: Religion and Propaganda, AD 224-652'
2003 Oct-2004 Jan, London, Hayward Gallery, 'Saved!100 Years of the National Art Collections Fund', no.23.
G52/IRAN/22, from official opening 17/11/95.
G49/IRAN, case 22, no. 16, 16 Jun-23 Dec 1994.
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.71
Iranian Room [IR], case 20, no. 2, Jul 1975-ca 1990.
Persian Landing [PL] at top of West Stairs, case 3.
- Complete; limited old corrosion attack on the underside with numerous fine old scratches (noted September 2003); the condition of gilding suggests that this is re-gilding.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Dalton, "Obtained in northern India".
See "Twenty-five years of the National Art Collections Fund" (Glasgow, 1928), p. 43, no. 402, "Purchased [in 1922] for £75 and presented to the British Museum." Also p. 194 (plate) and p. 199.
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: 0402 (NACF art review number)
Miscellaneous number: OT.210