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The Art of Ancient Iran; Pre-Islamic Culture

PREFACE


 

By: Edith Porada

Columbia University

With the collaboration of R. H. Dyson and contributions by C.K. Wilkinson

 

Iranian art created relatively few works of major importance, but rather many groups of objects, usually small and portable, with great artistic appeal. Animals were favoured as subjects. Their bodies were often transformed into severely formal compositions which nevertheless possess a mysterious life of their own. In them the beholder enjoys pure form and its enlivenment. A large number of the 61 colour plates of this book show such animal representations--boar, ibex and lion--from the various periods of ancient Iranian art.

The small number of plates makes it impossible to give a detailed survey of Iranian art from the beginnings to the advent of Islam. For that reason I have limited myself to discussion of those features of Iranian art which seem to have endured through the centuries. To that end an effort was made to choose as far as possible works with similar motifs: mostly animals, but also demonic combinations of animals and man. The most persistent motif is that of two-horned animals flanking a tree. The variant renderings of this and other motifs from the prehistoric period to Sasanian times provide a survey of the changing styles and of their basic traits.

As yet the knowledge of Iranian art is uneven, as is the interest in its various phases. While painted prehistoric pottery has been excavated in many different places in western and eastern Iran, the most spectacular finds of metal-work have been made in western Iran, especially in the region south-west of the Caspian Sea. Some phases of Iranian art are more fully illustrated in this book than others: prehistoric pottery, Elamite art of the late second millennium B.C., followed by a brief section on the Luristan bronzes. The last I consider to have been produced in part through stimuli received from Elamite art. Many objects from Hasanlu are illustrated thanks to . . . .

Though the chapters on Achaemenid and Sassanian art have most of the illustrations, these are nevertheless merely samples of the rich remains now known from these periods. Precise determination of the periods and of the local manifestations of pre-Achaemenid art such as the Luristan bronzes is still a matter of discussion, for modern excavations in Iran began as late as 1931-32 with the initial work of Georges Contenau and Roman Ghirshman at the pre-Achaemenid site of Tepe Giyan. The result of the work at this site was, for the first time, a relative dating of the prehistoric cultures of central western Iran. Before that, excavations in Iran--one must include Susa--were little more than unsystematic treasure hunts. Today there are scientific excavations carried out by different nations working with the Archaeological Service of Iran. Every summer excavations fill out a little more of the picture of ancient Iranian art and history.

In a field in which scholarly work has just begun, exchange of views with persons of varied knowledge and experience yields the most valid results. Thus chapters of this book contain not only my own ideas and those accepted from Robert H. Dyson Jr. and Charles K. Wilkinson, but also those of other colleagues [p. 13] like P. H. von Blanckenhage, Vaughn E. Crawford, Marc J. Dresden who very kindly consented to contribute to the glossary and the paragraphs characterizing the Iranian gods, Robert Gšbl, Jacques Duchesne Guillemin, Evelyn B. Harrison, Helene J. Kantor, Machteld J. Mellink, George C. Miles, Morton Smith, Ehsan Yar Shater.

Also some of my students contributed to the text . . . . Moreover, I have learnt a great deal from my frequent visits to the ever hospitable department of ancient Near Eastern art at the Metropolitan Museum [NY]. . . . . I also want to express my deep gratitude to . . . . 

Edith Porada, Columbia University, April 1964 [pp. 13-15]

 

 

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