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The "Sackler Plate"
An extract from Ancient Iranian metalwork in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art
7th century A.D.
Silver and gilt; hammered, chased, engraved, gilded
Height 4.2 cm
Rim diameter 20.8 cm
Weight 441 g
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, S1987.109
Gift of Arthur M. Sackler, 1982
Exhibited: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, from 1990.
THE PLATE RESTS on a low ring foot; its exterior is plain.
On the interior is an engraved and spot-gilded design of a royal figure on horseback, moving to the right, who hunts with bow and arrow two ibex. He wears a tunic, trousers, and halter with central medallion tied in back with long streamers. His headgear consists of a plain band and mural crown with a central crescent, surmounted by a globe. His quiver case is suspended from his belt. One ibex flees to the right; the other, moving in the opposite direction, stumbles below the horse. Beneath the horse is a stylized mountain. A gilded band encircles the inner rim, and spot gilding is found on parts of the royal figure, horse, and animals.
The composition of this plate can be paralleled among a number of royal hunting plates of Sasanian type: a royal figure on horseback, moving to the right, hunts two animals of the same species who are arranged in the field in front of and beneath the horse. This plate differs from most examples, however, in its simple engraved technique of decoration and in certain iconographic details.
The hunter's headdress consists of a mural crown with a front crescent, topped by a globe, an arrangement that does not correspond precisely to any crowns depicted on Sasanian coins. A similar headdress is represented on the coins of several kings who ruled late in the Sasanian period: Peroz (r. A.D. 457-84), Kavad I (r. A.D. 488-531), Khusro I (r. A.D. 531-79), Hormizd IV (r. A.D. 579-90), Bahram VI (r. A.D. 590-91), Khusro II (r. A.D. 591-628), and Kavad II (r. A.D. 628).
Closely related to the Sackler plate in style, composition, and engraved technique is a silver plate found at Nizhne Shakharovka, near Perm, Russia, depicting a royal figure hunting boars; the vessel is now in the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.1 The deeply engraved surface and use of spot gilding on these plates contrast with the characteristic technique of Sasanian royal hunting plates, in which separately made pieces are added in relief to the surface, with extensive gilding on the decoration. The simplicity of the style and technique of decoration of these two plates suggest that they are products of a provincial workshop, perhaps made at the end of the Sasanian era or in the early Islamic period, when local workshops imitated Sasanian court silver. The silver composition of the Nizhne Shakharovka plate is characteristic of the central Sasanian group of royal hunting plates produced under direct imperial control. Pieter Meyers has suggested that the use of this silver source may reflect different conditions governing control of the metal at the end of the Sasanian period or shortly thereafter, in which sources of silver previously monopolized by the court may have become newly available to nonroyal workshops.2
Both stylistic and technical features suggest a date for the Sackler Gallery vessel late in the Sasanian period or shortly afterward. Spot gilding occurs on Sasanian silver vessels early in the period [see 38] but does not seem to be employed again until late in the Sasanian period.3 The simple engraved style of the decoration and the adaptation of the royal crown and hunting theme also suggest a date late in the Sasanian era, when local or provincial workshops produced vessels imitating earlier court silver.
1. Harper and Meyers 1981, 86, pl. 32.
2. Harper and Meyers 1981, 158.
3. Harper and Meyers 1981, 157, 190.