The exhibition features more than 40 works fashioned in silver and gold between the founding of the Achaemenid Empire ca. 550 B.C.E. and the beginning of the Islamic period in the seventh century.
The vessels on display include finely hammered bowls, cups, plates, ewers and bottles. Many of the objects were intended for elaborate, multicourse banquets, for which the Iranians were known throughout the ancient world. Others were used for more solemn religious ceremonies.
Among the most celebrated works is a silver-gilt royal hunting plate with the portrait of Shapur II (309-379 C.E.), a Sasanian ruler recognizable by his distinctive crown. Fashioned out of 19 separate components, the plate is also one of the earliest Sasanian examples to depict a king hunting-one of the most enduring royal images from the ancient Near East.
Vessels depicting rulers or royal hunting scenes, an activity long associated with kingship in the ancient Near East, had yet another function: they were used primarily as diplomatic gifts and sent as symbols of imperial authority to far-flung corners of the Iranian Empire and along the Silk Road as far as China, to strengthen diplomatic and commercial relations. Military conflict between Iran and its western neighbors, first with Alexander of Macedonia, which brought the Achaemenid Empire to a close in 331 B.C., and later with the Romans, who vied for territorial and economic control, introduced new techniques and motifs into Iranian metalwork. For example, the figure of Dionysus, the Roman God of wine, together with his female companions, appears on several vessels.
Another rare and remarkable object from the Sasanian period is a wine horn, terminating in the head of a gazelle with a small spout, used for pouring out wine. Horn-shaped drinking cups of this type were continuously popular for at least a millennium.
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