The Sasanian dynasty of Iran ruled an area from the Euphrates River to Bactria from the third century A.D. until the Islamic conquest in the seventh century, controlling for much of that time the Silk Route from Byzantium to China.
Dating from the fourth century A.D., this silver head of a Sasanian king is an exquisite example of Sasanian metalwork. It is raised from a single piece of silver with chased and repoussé details. The king wears simple ovoid earrings and a beaded necklace of Sasanian fashion. His powerful stare and characteristic arched nose seem to suggest that the artist was attempting to convey a sense of majesty rather than an individual likeness. The identity of the subject of such representations, in relief or in the round, can often be determined by comparison of facial features and details of the crown with those of kings portrayed on Sasanian coins of the period. In this case, however, the crescent that decorates the crenellated crown and the striated orb that rises above it have no exact parallel. A combination of stylistic details suggests that it was made sometime in the fourth century, perhaps during the reign of Shapur II (A.D. 310–379). The lower section of this head has been cut away, so there is no way of knowing whether it was originally part of a larger sculpture composed of several pieces or a decorative bust intended to be seen alone.
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Title:Head of a king
Date:ca. 4th century
Medium:Silver, mercury gilding
Dimensions:15 3/4 x 9 x 7 7/8 in. (40 x 22.9 x 20 cm)
Credit Line:Fletcher Fund, 1965
Acquired by the Museum in 1965, purchased from K. Rabenou Ltd., New York.
“Recent Acquisitions: 1966-67,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, October 18, 1966–June 12, 1967.
“In the Presence of Kings: Royal Treasures from the Collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, April 19–September 4, 1967.
“Sasanian Silver: Late Antique and Early Mediaeval Arts of Luxury from Iran,” The University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, August–September 1967.
“Origin and Influence, Cultural Contacts: Egypt, the Ancient Near East and the Classical World,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, December 18, 1970–April 23, 1971.
“Patterns of Collecting: Selected Acquisitions 1965-1975,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, December 6, 1975–March 23, 1976.
“Wealth of the Roman World: Gold and Silver AD 300-700,” The British Museum, London, April 1–October 1, 1977.
“The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Selections from the Collection of the Ancient Near East Department,” MOA Museum of Art, Atami, Japan, The Aiche Prefectural Art Gallery, Nagoya, Japan, The Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan, 1983.
“Splendeur des Sassanides: L’Empire Perse Entre Rome et la Chine,” Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels, February 12–April 25, 1993.
“Ninety-Sixth Annual Report of the Trustees, for the Fiscal Year 1965-1966,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 25 (2), p. 76.
Harper, Prudence Oliver. 1966. "Portrait of a King." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 25, pp. 136-146.
Lefferts, Kate C. 1966. "Technical Notes." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 25, pp. 147-151.
Bodenstein, Beatrice E., Vaughn E. Crawford, Prudence O. Harper, Oscar W. Muscarella. 1966. Ancient Near Eastern Art: Guide to the Collections. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 39, fig. 61.
Grabar, Oleg. 1967. "An Introduction to the Art of Sasanian Sillver." In Sasanian Silver: Late Antique and Early Medieval Arts of Luxury From Iran, exh. cat. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Museum of Art, p. 133, no. 50.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1967. In the Presence of Kings: Royal Treasures from the Collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, exh. cat. no. 4.
Silver, Stuart. 1969. "Art as Pleasure in Contemporary Life." The Connoisseur, Nov. 1969, p. 186, fig. 6.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1972. Guide to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 55, fig. 27.
Fleming, Stuart J. 1975. Authenticity in Art: The Scientific Detection of Forgery. New York: Crane, Russak, and Company, p. 106, pl. 2.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1975. Notable Acquisitions, 1965-1975, p. 37.
Kent, J.P.C. and K.S. Painter (ed.). 1977. Wealth of the Roman World. Gold and Silver AD 300-700, exh. cat. The Trustees of the British Museum, pp. 156-157, no. 330
Harper, Prudence O. 1978. The Royal Hunter: Art of the Sasanian Empire, exh. cat. New York: Asia House Gallery, fig. A, p. 15.
Liebling, Roslyn. 1978. Time Line of Culture in the Nile Valley and its Relationship to Other World Cultures. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Hibbard, Howard. 1980. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Harper and Row, fig. 123, p. 64.
Meyers, Peter. 1981. "Technical Studies of Sasanian Silver." Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology Journal 1, pp. 242-245, pl. 3, 4.
Amiet, Pierre. 1981. "The Middle East." In Art in the Ancient World: A Handbook of Styles and Forms. New York: Rizzoli, p. 53, no. 151.
Harper, Prudence O. 1983. "Head of a King." In The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Selections from the Collection of the Ancient Near East Department, exh. cat. Tokyo: Chunichi Shimbun, no. 89.
Howard, Kathleen ed. 1983. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 50, fig. 11.
Harper, Prudence O. et al. 1984. "Ancient Near Eastern Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 41 (4), p. 9, fig. 5.
Porter, Barbara A. 1984. Art of the Ancient Near East Permanent Galleries. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, fig. 6.
Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire. 1993. Splendeur des Sassanides: l'Empire Perse entre Rome et la Chine (224-642), exh. cat. Brussels: Crédit Communal, p. 165, no. 23.
Daryaee, Touraj. 2009. Sasanian Persia: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. London: I. B. Tauris, front cover.
Benzel, Kim, Sarah B. Graff, Yelena Rakic, and Edith W. Watts. 2010. Art of the Ancient Near East: A Resource for Educators. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, image 29, pp. 108-109.
Baumer, Christoph. 2014. The History of Central Asia. Volume 2: The Age of the Silk Roads. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, p. 53, fig. 34.
Rousseau, Vanessa, and Peter Northover. 2015. "Style and Substance: A Bust of a Sasanian Royal Woman as a Symbol of Late Antique Legitimacy." Journal of Late Antiquity 8.1 (Spring 2015), pp. 7 (n. 14), 12 (n. 34), 13 (n. 35) and, 19 (n. 59).
Harper, Prudence O. 2020. "Interpreting Sasanian Beards: Significant Images in an Interconnected World." In Studies in Ancient Persia and the Achaemenid Period," edited by John Curtis. Cambridge: James Clarke and Co., pp. 178-9, fig. 3.
Gawlikowski, Michał. 2021. Tadmor - Palmyra: A Caravan City between East and West. Krakow: IRSA Publishing House, p. 61, fig. 29.
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