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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Sassanid Art : Bronze Sculpture of a Saddled Horse
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Bronze Sculpture of a Saddled Horse - LO.712 (LSO)
Origin: Central Asia
Circa: 200 AD to 600 AD
Dimensions: 3.375" (8.6cm) high x 5.5" (14.0cm) wide
Collection: Near Eastern
Medium: Bronze
Condition: Extra Fine

Location: Great Britain
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This attractive bronze sculpture of a saddled horse was made under the reign of the second Persian Empire, better known as the Sassanid Empire. It is portrayed in what appears to be mid-gallop, with both sets of legs extended, thus elongating the middle section. The musculature is strongly marked on the limbs and trunk, giving a sinuous profile that is accentuated by te proud, straight set of the neck and the bowed head. The surface is decorated with circular sconces on the forelimb and flank, as well as by a simple saddle in the centre of the spine. The mane is rendered in a vertical crest, the poll and ears standing proud of the head’s apex. The face is deliberately reductivist, with circular/diamond-shaped eyes, incised nostrils and a linear mouth. The tail is evidently meant to have been docked; the detailing is minimised in order to attract attention to the linear flow of the piece’s construction, and the whole is covered with a fine patina of use and age.

The Sassanids started with the end of the Parthian Empire (221 AD) and ended with the rise of the Islamic state, specifically the early Arab Caliphate (651 AD). In their heyday the Sassanid Empire ruled over much of modern Iraq, Iran, Turkry, Syria, Central Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. They took over the lands of numerous smaller tribes – notably the Kushans – and took advantage of the decline of Roman influence in the region to become arguably the most important group in late Antiquity, and certainly the most powerful and influential cultural entity ever produced by Iran. Their civilisation is generally considered to be the apogee of Persian culture, and it proved to be enormously influential in Western European, African, Chinese and Indian medieval art traditions. While eschewing many Sassanid traditions, in light of their faith, Islamic cultures have always credited the Sassanids with much of the Arab States’ cultural traditions.

Sassanid art and culture enjoyed considerable royal and aristocratic patronage, and was thus both highly luxurious and diverse. The vast spread of the empire brought influences from across Asia and beyond, so that Sassanid raw materials and creativity was unrivalled in its time. Sassanid wall-painting achieved considerable fame, while their reformatting of classical art styles spelled the move from classical representation to the more ornamental Byzantine style. Their ornate architecture – based around stone vaults and domes –also influenced Latin Christian art, while they were also renowned for their painted reliefs at sites such as Taq-e Bostan and Naqsh-e Rustam. Paintings on wood or perhaps canvas (the records are unclear) were also produced, with several art schools (such as that founded by the Prophet Mani) turning out portraits that were used to decorate the palaces of the wealthy, and to paint pictures of recently-deceased kings to be stored in the treasury. Mural painters also gained considerable renown, although most Persians were more moved by their ornate rugs and tapestries, even writing poems about them. The few remaining examples of Sassanian carpets are the most valued textiles in the world. Sassanid crowns, worn by every monarch, were also renowned for their technical complexity, as well as the symbolism used to represent aspects of that monarch’s reign or personality. In general terms, Sassanid art is differentiated from their successors in light of its frequent representationalism, but also in that they eschewed many classical methods of representation and focused on the reinterpretation of more traditional Persian themes. Sculptural themes varied considerably, and included animal and human figures, often in roundels (rendered in stucco), as well as geometric and floral motifs that included the use of mosaic techniques.

Like most Central Asian groups, the Sassanids relied heavily upon the horse for fast travel, as well as for patrolling the borders of their mighty empire. It is unclear as to why such a piece as this might have been made, but it is likely to represent a specific or generic horse in the eyes of the owner, perhaps as a burial offering. Horse ownership has always been a preserve of the wealthy, hence the multi-lingual differentiation of those who can and cannot afford to own them (i.e. knights, caballeros [horsemen], chevaliers etc). It is probable that this was an amulet or charm, owned by a high-ranking member of Sassanid society. It is also a beautiful and sophisticated piece of ancient metalwork, and a worthy addition to any collection. - (LO.712 (LSO))


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