Persian Art

Introduction

Summary

Summary of Persian Art
architecture Achaemenid: post-and-beam palaces (notably the Apadana)
Sassanid: arched palaces (notably the palace at Ctesiphon)
sculpture animal capitals, wall reliefs, metalwork

Introduction

While the term "Persia" can be used as a synonym for Iran, it can also be used more specifically to denote pre-Islamic Iran (see History of the Ancient Middle East). This latter definition is used throughout Essential Humanities.

The two great ages of Persian civilization were the First Persian Empire (aka Achaemenid Empire), which spanned ca. 550-330 BC, and the Second Persian Empire (aka Sassanid Empire), which spanned ca. 200-650. Prior to the Achaemenid Empire, Persian culture experienced its formative stage; between the two empires, Persian culture was temporarily suppressed (in favour of Greek culture). With the fall of the Sassanid Empire, Persia became part of the Islamic world; ever since, Persia has flourished as a branch of Islamic civilization (see Islamic Art).

Stylistically, Persian art can be described as a blend of native Persian traditions with Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greco-Roman art.3 This is only to be expected, given the relative youth of Persian civilization. (Historically, whenever a new culture has emerged, it has typically borrowed heavily from the culture of elder neighbours.)

Prior to the rise of the First Persian Empire, the dominant power of Southwest Asia was Mesopotamia. The cultural influence of the Mesopotamians radiated across the younger powers of Southwest Asia, including the Persians. Thus did Mesopotamian culture become the foundation of Persian culture.

Persian culture was further enriched by two additional major influences: Egypt and the classical West (Greece and Rome). Naturally, all foreign influences were interpreted in a uniquely Persian way, and fused with indigenous Persian traditions.

Relatively little Persian art has weathered the millennia. Surviving architecture consists mainly of ruined palaces and rock-cut tombs, while Persian sculpture has been preserved mainly in the form of column capitals, wall reliefs, and metalwork. No Persian painting has survived.

Main Article

Architecture

The richest collection of Achaemenid ruins is found at Persepolis, Iran (a capital of the First Persian Empire). The greatest structure is a palace known as the Apadana.H59

The most distinctive feature of Persian architecture is the column. Though modelled after Greek columns, Persian columns are thinner, heightening their sense of verticality. The Persians also developed a unique style of capital (the topmost section of a column), in which the front portion of an animal emerges from either side; this design may be termed the Persian animal capital.D34

Ruins of the Apadana Palace
Reconstruction of the Apadana Palace
Persian Animal Capital (Bulls)
Persian Animal Capital (Griffins)

While architecture of the Achaemenid Empire features post-and-beam (column-supported) construction, the Sassanid Empire preferred arched (arch-supported) construction, which was adopted from the Romans. The most famous Sassanid ruin is the palace at Ctesiphon, Iraq (capital of the Second Persian Empire). Roman influence is evident in wall compositions of engaged columns and blind arches.5

Ruins of the Palace at Ctesiphon
Ruins of a Sassanid Palace

Sculpture

Along with animal capitals, large-scale Persian sculpture has survived mainly in the form of reliefs, upon the walls of palaces and the faces of cliffs. Some are quite stylized with a strong Mesopotamian flavour, while others feature the striking realism of classical Europe.H60 Indeed, these two contrasting aesthetics are found in all forms of Persian sculpture.

Relief at Persepolis
Relief at Persepolis
Persian Cliff Relief
Persian Cliff Relief

In addition to monumental sculpture (of which relatively little survives), the Persians are responsible for a magnificent body of metalwork. Common forms include statuettes, rhytons, and jewellery. (A rhyton is a vessel, usually featuring an animal design, that serves as either a goblet or pitcher.)

Persian Statuettes
Persian Rhyton
Persian Rhyton
Persian Horse Head
Persian Plate
1 - "Sumerian and Babylonian art", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed July 2010.
2 - "Egyptian architecture", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed July 2010.
3 - "Persian art and architecture", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed July 2010.
4 - "Mesopotamian art and architecture", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
5 - "Iranian art and architecture", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
6 - "Islamic art and architecture", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed July 2010.
7 - "Islamic art and architecture", Encarta. Accessed July 2010.
8 - "South Asian arts", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
9 - "Indian art and architecture", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed July 2010.
10 - "Indian art and architecture", Encarta. Accessed July 2010.
11 - "Chinese art", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed July 2010.
12 - "Chinese architecture", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
13 - "Pre-Columbian art and architecture", Encarta. Accessed July 2010.
14 - "Pre-Columbian art and architecture", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed July 2010.
15 - "African art and architecture", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed July 2010.
16 - "African art and architecture", Encarta. Accessed July 2010.
17 - "Mosque of Djenné", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
18 - "African art", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
19 - "North American Native art", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed July 2010.
20 - "Native American art", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
21 - "Aboriginal art", Encarta. Accessed July 2010.
22 - "Oceanic art and architecture", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
23 - "Oceanic art and architecture", Encarta. Accessed July 2010.
24 - "Oceanic art", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed July 2010.
25 - "States of Sub-Saharan Africa, 1000-1500", Encarta (David Northrup). Accessed July 2010.
26 - "Mosque", Encarta. Accessed July 2010.
27 - "Islam", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
28 - "Islamic arts", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
29 - "Taj Mahal", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
30 - "African architecture", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
31 - "Mask", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed July 2010.
32 - "Hopewell culture", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
33 - "Cahokia Mounds", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
34 - "Pottery", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
35 - "Huari", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
36 - "Western Africa", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.
37 - "Quillwork", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2010.