Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Throne Leg in the Shape of a Griffin

Object Name:
Throne leg
late 7th–early 8th century
Attributed to probably Western Iran
Bronze; cast around a ceramic core and chased
Gr. H. (base on top of iron rod) = 22 7/16 in. (57.0 cm) Gr. W. (at top) = 3 7/16 in. (8.7 cm) Gr. Diam. (beak to back of strut) = 7 3/8 in. (18.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1971
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 451
This throne leg in the shape of a hybrid creature continues a long history of fantastic animal forms in Iranian art. The vegetal decoration found on its chest is an innovation in the transitional period of early Islam. Related to sixth- and seventh‑century Central Asian wall paintings depicting enthroned figures, this decoration may have been introduced to Iran during the last century of the Sasanian period, when contacts with Soghdian Central Asia increased.
Shaped as the forepart of a griffin, a formidable hybrid creature, this throne leg was cast in leaded bronze; the strut, which originally supported the throne with two iron rods, rises from behind the griffin’s neck. The head, chest, and paws are decorated with chased plant
motifs, including leaf patterns and floral details, while the fur on the griffin’s face and paws is delineated by curvilinear designs. Continuing a long history of fantastic animal forms in Sasanian and post-Sasanian thrones and other decorative works, this object represents the symbolic identification of winged and particularly powerful animals (real and imaginary) with royalty. In pre-Islamic times the griffin, a combination of two solar symbols (the lion and the eagle), was seen as a vehicle of ascension, implying the ruler’s deification. In the early years of the Islamic period, these royal and religious symbols were appropriated to project an aura of power and legitimacy.[1]
Allegedly one of a pair,[2] this leg stands apart stylistically from other extant related examples.[3] Its attribution and dating have been complicated by the fact that no examples of Sasanian thrones survive. The closest counterparts are two griffin supports, one in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, and the other in the Nizami Museum of Literature in Baku, Azerbaijan.[4] Although the attribution of the Metropolitan’s leg remains inconclusive, the vegetal decoration on the griffin’s chest offers some useful clues. There is no precedent for this particular combination of forms and motifs in the western reaches of the Sasanian Empire. However, wall paintings and sealstones from Panjikent ( present-day Tajikistan) dated to the fifth and sixth centuries show enthroned figures supported by a leg with a griffinlike head bearing foliate decoration. This iconography and distinct decorative detail may have been introduced to Iran during the last century of the Sasanian period, when contacts with Soghdian Central Asia increased. Like the Museum’s silver plate (63.186), this throne leg fits comfortably into the category of post-Sasanian art.
Maryam Ekhtiar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Welch, S. C., et al. 1987, p. 15.
2. Orbeli 1938–39, p. 719, pls. 240 B, C. According to New York 1978, pp. 97–100, both illustrations may show the same, rather than two different, pieces.
3. New York 1978, p. 99. Prudence Harper, Curator Emerita, Department of Ancient Near East, Metropolitan Museum of Art, studied this piece in great detail in 1978 and published the results in ibid., pp. 97–100.
4. Bretanitskii and Veimarn 1976, p. 40 (Nizami Museum throne leg). See New York 1978, p. 99.
D. David-Weill, Paris (by 1938–71; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris,June 16, 1971, no. 49, to MMA)
London. Burlington House. "International Exhibition of Persian Art," January 7, 1931–February 28, 1931, no. 11.

Wilson, Arnold T. "7th January to 28th February, 1931." In Catalogue of the International Exhibition of Persian Art. 3rd. ed. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1931. no. 11, p. 8.

"An Illustrated Souvenir of the Exhibition of Persian Art at Burlington House London, 1931." In Persian Art. 2nd ed. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1931. no. 11, p. 8, ill. (b/w).

Harari, Ralph, and Richard Ettinghausen. A Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present, edited by Arthur Upham Pope. Vol. I-VI. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1938. v. I, p. 720, ill. v. IV, pl. 240C, The other leg of this pair belonged to the Stoclet Collection, Brussels, in 1938 (pl. 240B).

Grabar, Oleg. Sasanian Silver: Late Antique and Early Mediaeval Arts of Luxury from Iran. Ann Arbor, 1967. no. nos 18–19, 24, pp. 105–6, 111.

Iskusstvo Azerbaidzhana, IV–XVIII vekov.. Moscow, 1976. p. 40.

Harper, Prudence Oliver. The Royal Hunter: Art of the Sasanian Empire. New York, 1978. pp. 97-100.

Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). ill. p. 3 (b/w).

Swietochowski, Marie, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina. Notable Acquisitions 1965–1975 (1975). p.140, ill. (b/w).

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. p. 15, ill. fig. 3 (color).

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. 4, p. 28, ill. (color).

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