Stucco reliefs were commonly used to decorate the iwans and reception halls of elite Sasanian houses. Many examples were found in excavated houses in the Ctesiphon area including this relief from Ma’aridh IV consisting of two stylized plants above a beaded border. The use of molds to make stuccos allowed for the creation of large scale repetitive patterns such as floral and vegetal motifs. This pattern was also found in the nearby house of Ma’aridh VI, indicating the reuse of the molds to create stuccos for different buildings.
The city of Ctesiphon was located on the east bank of the Tigris River, 20 miles (32 km) south of modern Baghdad in Iraq. It flourished for more than 800 years as the capital of the Parthians and the Sasanians, the last two dynasties to rule the ancient Near East before the Islamic conquest in the seventh century. Systematic excavations in the Ctesiphon area were undertaken by an expedition in 1928–29 sponsored by the German Oriental Society (Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft). The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Staatliche Museen, Berlin, undertook a joint expedition for one season in 1931–32. Several excavations were conducted, including at the main palace (Taq-i Kisra), in a small fortified area south of the palace at Tell Dheheb, at multiple houses at the mounds of Ma’aridh, and at additional houses at a small mound called Umm ez-Za’tir.
Over the course of the excavations in the Ctesiphon area, six houses from a series of small mounds called el Ma’aridh were excavated. These houses follow typical Sasanian design with a mix of square and elongated rooms. The house at Ma’aridh IV was partially excavated and the exposed portions show both service and reception areas of the house. In the northeast corner of the excavations two rooms, one with pillars, were decorated with stuccos. A large courtyard with four niches probably was the center of the house. The southwest rooms seem to be more functional in nature and may have served as service rooms. One room may have functioned as a bath as indicated by the water channels excavated. A large house such as Ma’aridh IV was clearly an elite household as demonstrated by its large size (1200 square meters were excavated) and the decorated rooms.
1931–32, excavated by the Joint Expedition of the Staatliche Museen of Berlin and the Metropolitan Museum of Art; acquired by the Museum in 1932, ceded in the division of finds.
“Pattern, Color, Light: Architectural Ornament in the Near East (500-1000).” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, July 20, 2015–January 10, 2016.
Harper, Prudence Oliver. 1978. The Royal Hunter: Art of the Sasanian Empire. New York: The Asia Society, p. 102, pl. III G.