Iranian art 90
, L ondon lb ert Museum
3 Qaran Unhorses Barman, folio from the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp, Tabriz, about 1523-35. The Sarikhani Collection, I.MS.4025
4 Armlet, Iran, 500-330 BCE, from the Oxus Treasure. Victoria and Albert Museum i Collection
‘Epic Iran’ will encompass sculpture, metalwork, ceramics and glass, textiles and carpets, paintings, the arts of the book, but also digital art. Thus it will reflect the culture and design of five millennia. History begins in Iran in about 3200 BCE with the introduction of writing. It was under the Persian Empire established by the Achaemenid dynasty that Iran was first united politically, in the 6th century BCE.
The exhibition begins with striking imagery of the Iranian plateau, framed by mountain chains, the Caspian Sea to the north, the Persian Gulf to the south, and with two great deserts in the centre. At the end of the fourth millennium BCE these landscapes were home to indigenous populations on the Iranian plateau, dependent on agriculture and trade. The early periods are documented by small objects—mostly figurines, basins, seals and tablets. New populations speaking Iranian languages migrated to the plateau from Central Asia from about 1200 BCE, while a sophisticated Elamite civilisation flourished in southwest Iran, long before the foundation of the Persian Empire and Achaemenid dynasty by Cyrus the Great in 550 BCE.
The Achaemenids were the first to use Persian as a written language in cuneiform script. Their prosperous artistic culture is displayed in a dramatic section with insights into kingship, royal power, trade and governance. Highlights include reliefs from Persepolis and objects from the Oxus Treasure. On loan from the British Museum is the Cyrus Cylinder (8), sometimes celebrated as the first declaration of human rights.
Alexander the Great overthrew the Persian Empire in 331 BCE, but died in Babylon less than a decade later, whereupon his generals struggled for power in the conquered regions. One of them eventually established the Seleucid Empire, which was quicky replaced by Iranian dynasties. First came the Parthians, who were in turn defeated by the Sasanians. Zoroastrianism, which is considered to be the world’s oldest monotheistic faith, became the state religion under the last of these ancient empires.