Wednesday 21 January 2015

Ancient Interests

By my request, Santa brought me the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings) the 1000  year old Iranian national epic by poet Abolqasem Ferdowsi. I have the Penguin deluxe edition of the book with deckled pages and it is a very readable translation. So far it is reminding me of The Mahabharata (the ancient Indian epic which I only saw in Peter Brook's serial televised form), in that it is very bizarre group of stories. I am struck by the use of the word farr to describe a radiance emanating from a true king's face to illustrate that he has a divine rule. The book to me represents a literary parallel to various pieces of ancient art and architecture which I have always associated with Ancient Persia (that is, the Achaemenid Empire, c. 550-330 BCE). Please forgive me if I am incorrect in my association, I don't mean to step on any toes with my ignorance!

Three days was a short time to spend on Museum Island in Berlin in 1992, but I made the most of it. The Pergamon & Bode Museum was amazing and it was there I beheld the reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate. The gate hails from 6th century BCE Babylon, shortly before the Persians invaded that part of the world. The wall sculpture below, also at the Pergamon, identified as being from the Persian palace at Susa and being a depiction of a "Spear-bearer of the bodyguard of Darius I (521-486 BC)" shows how stylistically similar Persian work was to other art in the area.

Other work which I have confused in the past for Ancient Persian, are wall reliefs and sculpture from the earlier empire of Assyria (c. 7th century BCE). The British Museum has a beautiful collection of  artifacts from Assyria, including a dedicated long room full of wall carvings.

Whenever I visit the British Museum (every couple of years), I must stand in fascination in this room. The carvings are stunning.

These photos are from a visit in February 2011. Unfortunately, my young daughter felt uncomfortable with the animals being speared and shot with arrows (depictions of a lion hunt), so we did not spend as long in the room as I would have liked!

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