A Collection of Bronzes from Luristan

By: L. L.

Originally Published in 1931

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THE Museum has just acquired a remarkable collection of Persian bronzes, some of which were on view in the recent great exhibition of Persian art in London. They have attracted a great deal of attention, not only for the beauty of the objects, their wonderful preservation-they are covered with a delightful jade green patina-and the strange and subtle forms of an art both naturalistic and conventional, but also for the age and historical meaning of those two thousand pieces, the oldest examples of the native art recovered of late in Persia.

Several bronze objects that show animals
Plate X — Bronzes from Luristan, Persia
Museum Object Numbers: 30-38-52 / 30-38-30 / 30-38-53 / 30-38-38 / 30-38-22 / 30-38-35 / 30-38-31

They come from Luristan, according to Arthur Upham Pope, adviser in Art to the Persian Government and to many American Museums. They can be dated about 1500 to 400 B.C. according to the first reports published by Mr. Pope in the Illustrated London News. They were discovered by the Lur tribesmen in four or five different ruined cities and cemeteries of their wild mountain country; sold in the Kermanshah bazaars, they found their way to Europe and America.

The bronzes are supposed to show pre-Zoroastrian ideas-the eternal fight of good and evil-translated into figures, and even to show distant connections with Scythian, Siberian, and Chinese art. It seems unnecessary to look so far afield. Luristan, the land of the Lurs, is the highland of Persia on the border of Mesopotamia, between Hamadan and Shushan the Palace, on both banks of the river Kercha. The Lurs, cousins of the Kurds, are ancient native mountaineers, preserving up to the present, despite so many invasions, their language and independence. The great importance of their district is that it lies astride and controls two great historic roads of the world: the road from Baghdad to China by way of Hamadan, Teheran and Samarkand; and the road to India by Shushan, lspahan and Persepolis.

Long before Zoroaster, Luristan was alive to the world of trade and in close contact with the neighboring cultures and arts of Elam, of Sumer, and later of Assyria. In the third millennium B.C., the inhabitants of Mesopotamia always referred to the highlands of Persia on the eastern border as the country of Shushan and Anshan. A native art, language, and writing of Elam existed as far back as 4000 B.C., and the language of Anshan never died out; it has been called the Anzanite language. When the kings of Persia-Darius and his successors-inscribed the records of their wars on the rocks of Behistun and of Mount Elwend, they used three kinds of writings for three different languages: Persian, Babylonian, and Anzanite.

The Luristan bronzes belong to the local Anzanite art, heir to the ancient, pre-Elamite art, strongly influenced by Sumerian traditions and more directly by the Assyrian art of the Sargonids, and probably flourishing at the time of the great expansion of the Persian power under the Achaemenian kings, whose indefatigable chariots and cavalry overran the world. The Persians spent their life on horseback-‘Equis omni tempore vectantur; illis bella, illis publica et privata negotia obeunt‘-no wonder that they kept the habit beyond the grave. A good many of the Luristan bronzes-bits, frontals, rosettes, harness, and chariot ornaments-belong to riders buried with their horse, with a hand still resting lovingly on the animal’s neck. It is interesting to remember that the pasture land of the Lur mountains, over five thousand feet high around Kermanshah, has always been famous for breeding horses, and that that city, in the last century under Ali-mirza son of Shah Tath-Ali, had an arsenal and a strong garrison. Among the many foreign officers helping the military restoration was Sir Henry Rawlinson, the father of Assyriology.

Five bronze objects, including a dagger and axe heads
Plate XI — Bronzes from Luristan, Persia
Museum Object Numbers: 30-38-57 / 30-38-55 / 30-38-56 / 30-38-54 / 30-38-17

Among earlier traditions connecting the Lur highlands and Sumer, the striking similarity between the weapons has been noted. The gold dagger-with lapis handle fixed by gold rivets, and adorned with gold nails-from the Predynastic Royal Cemetery at Ur, and the gold adze-cast with its socket reinforced by a projecting ridge-from the same cemetery, were both copied by the Luristan artists.

The Museum has acquired a bronze cup bearing a cuneiform inscription which, if it actually comes from Luristan with the other objects, has a much greater significance. The inscription is a record of a votive offering made by a servant of a king of Akkad, and the style and beauty of the characters may be considered as proof of its genuineness. The inscription reads: ‘Shargali-sharri, king of Agade, Shaki-beli is thy servant.’ Whether the cup was inscribed and deposited in the local shrine by a Semite servant of the great Akkadian king, perhaps his representative in the mountain district, or was a spoil of war brought back after a raid in the Mesopotamian plain, is still a question. The Code of Hammurabi and the great Stela of Naram Sin were brought in the same way from Sippara and Babylon to Shushan, where they were discovered. In any case our bronze cup is a new link in the chain of evidence of the traditional relations between the high and the low lands. At the time of Sargon, a colony of Semitic merchants was established in Asia Minor on another stage of the trading road connecting Mesopotamia with the West.

The relation between the Luristan bronzes and Assyrian art are obvious. The winged bulls, goats, ibexes, dragons, and griffons, the style of running lions, the affronted figures, so gracefully adapted to decorative art, on the adornment of chariot and horses, are found again on the stone reliefs of Calah and Nineveh.

The Anzanite art of the Luristan bronzes is, however, a local art. The energy of the animal figures, the special treatment of the horses, with the long Asiatic head on a short powerful neck and body, the splendid development of the ibex figure-a national coat of arms of the Lur mountains-and the very remarkable transformation of the lion head and body, are proper to this refined and subtle Persian highland art.

L. L.

Cite This Article

L., L.. "A Collection of Bronzes from Luristan." Museum Bulletin II, no. 6 (April, 1931): 194-202. Accessed July 15, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/bulletin/778/

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