Exhibitions/ Art Object
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Wall decoration with birds and vegetal design

Period:
Sasanian
Date:
ca. 6th century A.D.
Geography:
Mesopotamia, Ctesiphon
Culture:
Sasanian
Medium:
Stucco
Dimensions:
12.5 x 12.5 in. (31.75 x 31.75 cm)
Classification:
Stucco-Reliefs
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1932
Accession Number:
32.150.20
Not on view
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 panel from Ma’aridh IV consisting of a number of popular Sasanian motifs. On this panel a tree with multiple branches is the center of a balanced design of winding scrolls with rosettes, bellflowers, buds, and pomegranates. Two pairs of birds perch on branches, peacocks on the lower and partridges on the upper, and seem to be interwoven into the overall vegetal decoration. The use of molds to make stuccos allowed for the creation of large scale repetitive patterns such as floral and vegetal motifs.

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.

“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.

“The Beauty of the Beasts.” Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, November 15, 1992–May 30, 1993.

Dimand, Maurice S. 1944. Handbook of Muhammadan Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, fig. 8.

Kröger, Jens. 1982. Sasanidischer Stuckdekor. Baghdader Forschungen Band 5. Mainz: Philip von Zabern, pp. 99-102, no. 134, fig. 55, pl. 39.

Harper, Prudence O. et al. 1983. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Selections from the Collection of the Ancient Near East Department, exh. cat. Tokyo: Chunichi Shimbun, no. 29.
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