Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Plate Depicting a Female Figure Riding a Fantastic Winged Beast

Object Name:
probably 8th century
Silver; gilded, chased, and engraved, with applied elements
H. 1 9/16 in. (4.0 cm) Diam. 8 1/8 in. (20.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1963
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 451
Like Sasanian examples, this plate depicts a female figure riding a fantastic winged beast with a feline head, feathered body, and canine legs. Her figure is unnaturalistically twisted, a quality seen on late seventh‑ and early eighth‑century Central Asian wall paintings from Panjikent. The lower part of the plate contains a symbolic representation of earth, water, and sky.
Emblematic of post-Sasanian metalwork, this handsome silver plate depicts a female figure, possibly a goddess, who wears a three-pointed crown with a halo and rides a fantastic winged creature with a lean feathered body, feline head, and canine legs; the heads of both figures are crafted in high relief. The female’s pose as she rides the mythological beast, the slender and elongated bodies, and the foliation on the animal are all features seen in wood sculptures of the late seventh or early eighth century from Panjikent ( present-day Tajikistan) in Central Asia. In addition, the formalized and awkward position of the woman’s arms and the hand gesture (mudra) are fairly common in the art of Central Asia, particularly on wall paintings; on the lower part of the plate, a stylized representation of earth, water, and sky is also reminiscent of imagery in cave paintings of Central Asia. (This is not to suggest that the Museum’s plate was produced in Soghdian territories but rather that these aspects are evidence of artistic exchanges with that region). The six-petaled flower with a long stem the goddess is holding is a motif again seen on two silver ewers, one in the National Museum of Iran, Tehran, and the other in the British Museum, London, each assigned to the Sasanian period, while the unusual drapery of the goddess’s garment, notably the coiling technique used to delineate the ample folds, also appears on a silver ewer of the Sasanian period depicting Dionysus/ Anahita in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Both the design and the manufacture of this dish are complex and ambiguous, giving rise to detailed discussions about its attribution and place of production. The plate’s resemblance to a number of silver objects in the collection of the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, that were found at various sites in the Urals has been helpful in attributing it to post-Sasanian eastern Iran. In fact, the closest parallel to the woman’s pose occurs on a silver-gilt plate in the Hermitage from Tomyz, Viatka (in the present-day Republic of Tatarstan in southern Russia) with an inscription in Pahlavi, a script that continued in use in parts of Iran well into the eighth century. This plate, with its abundance of influences, serves as a testament to the extent of cultural exchange between Iran and neighboring areas during the eighth century; perhaps its meaning can be best interpreted within that context.

Maryam Ekhtiar (author) in [Ekhtiar et al. 2011]
Inscription: ?; transliteration: "Manjusri"?
[ John J. Klejman, New York, until 1963; sold to MMA]
University of Michigan Museum of Art and Oleg Grabar. Sasanian Silver: Late Antique and Early Mediaeval Arts of Luxury from Iran. Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1967. no. 54.

University of Michigan Museum of Art. "Late Antique and Early Mediaeval Arts of Luxury from Iran." In Sasanian Silver. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Museum of Art, 1967. no. 54, p. 136, ill. p. 136 (b/w).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1970. no. 105, p. 144, ill. (b/w).

Harper, Prudence Oliver. "An eighth century silver plate from Iran with a mythological scene." In Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, edited by Richard Ettinghausen. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1972. p. 155, ill. figs. 12-17, Color plate; b/w illustrations of details.

Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 6, pp. 28, 30, ill. p. 30 (color).

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