An important Post-Sassanian bronze Horse Persia, circa 7th/ 8th Century
Lot 8
An important Post-Sassanian bronze Horse
Persia, circa 7th/ 8th Century
Sold for £ 57,500 (US$ 77,149) inc. premium

Lot Details
An important Post-Sassanian bronze Horse Persia, circa 7th/ 8th Century An important Post-Sassanian bronze Horse Persia, circa 7th/ 8th Century An important Post-Sassanian bronze Horse Persia, circa 7th/ 8th Century An important Post-Sassanian bronze Horse Persia, circa 7th/ 8th Century An important Post-Sassanian bronze Horse Persia, circa 7th/ 8th Century An important Post-Sassanian bronze Horse Persia, circa 7th/ 8th Century An important Post-Sassanian bronze Horse Persia, circa 7th/ 8th Century An important Post-Sassanian bronze Horse Persia, circa 7th/ 8th Century An important Post-Sassanian bronze Horse Persia, circa 7th/ 8th Century
An important Post-Sassanian bronze Horse
Persia, circa 7th/ 8th Century
a stallion, standing square, the front and back legs each to a horizontal base, with an oval aperture on the back with remnants of attachment fitting, with naturalistic detailing, wearing full trappings of chevron design comprising bridle with reins, girth and crupper, a pendant suspended from the brow band, the forelock tied at the base to form a plume and the mane hogged, the left hand side of the body with a pendent animal tail or horse-hair tassel, the tail elaborately knotted, the interior with two small spikes used to hold the core in place during casting
22.5 cm. high; 24.5 cm. long


  • Theriomorphic figurines and containers were popular in Persia as early as 2000 BC, and were a notable achievement of Sassanian and early Islamic metalwork. Animal forms existed in ceramic, but it was the bronze founders who created a more distinguished repertoire. During the Sassanian period, aquamaniles are known in the form of a deer (Pope, Arthur Upham, A Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric times to the Present, reprint, Ashiya, 1981, p. 767, fig. 264), a goose or a peacock (ibid., Pl. 241); incense burners in the form of a hawk (ibid, Pl. 242), a cockerel or a horseman (a king on horseback, in this case; ibid., Pl. 240A).

    Not all objects had a purpose beyond the decorative, for example, a horse with trappings (Orbeli, I.A. and K.V. Trever, Sassanian Metal, Moscow and Leningrad, 1935, Pl. 84); and a hare (Pope, 1981, Pl. 169c). Indeed, it is not possible to ascertain the original purpose of the present lot since there are no visible traces of burnt matter or deposits from water inside.

    At their best, animals of the transitional period between the end of the Sassanian and early Islamic empires are sympathetically depicted with a lively naturalism, although even the finest examples are ultimately simplistic and very solid, like the Hermitage deer (ibid., p. 768, fig. 264) with the general outlines and proportions naturalistic, showing a clear descendance from the stone carvings of the Achaemenid era, for example, the investiture of Ardashir I at Naqsh-e Rostom, datable to AD 226-242. They lack the covering of engraved ornament, prevalent in Medieval Islamic art.

    Objects of these types continued to be made into the Seljuk period with only relatively small changes in the major features of the style in the early centuries of Islam, the two most notable examples being an aquamanile in the form of a bird with naturalistic detailing and the addition of calligraphy, naming Suleyman the maker and dated AH 180/ AD 796-97, in the Hermitage Museum (Petrovsky, Mikhail B. and John Vrieze, Art of Islam, Heavenly Art, Earthly Beauty, Amsterdam, 1999, p. 266, no. 199); and a zebu-cow suckling her calf, with an inscription naming the maker as 'Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Abu al-Qasim and the date AH 603/ AD 1206, also in the Hermitage (ibid , pp. 164-65, no. 119). The Brobinksy horse, possibly part of a lamp, dating to the 10th Century, shows a more stylised form (Alexander,David, Furusiyya. The Horse in the Art of the Near East, Riyadh, 1996, Vol. II, p. 213, no. 180). Two further horses dating to the 13th Century sold at Christie's in 2011 (Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds, 7th April 2011, lots 62 and 63) are heavily stylised, with openwork and engraved decoration covering their surfaces, and both clearly wearing saddles.

    Sassanian horses, at least those used by the kings, were a well-defined, unusual breed. Unlike the Turcoman pony and the Luristan horse, they were closer to what we know today as the Percheron horse, characterised by a short head, straight head profile, large eyes and small ears, heaviness of barrel and solidity of rump. Contemporary depictions from the Sassanian and Post-Sassanian periods depict horses with a saddle-cloth or animal skin, but often no saddle. Saddle-cloths were generally rectangular, and were held by girth and tail straps. Straps were adorned with disks or fringed, or with pendant ornaments. The king's horse (Alexander, 1996, no. 93) has two acorn shaped objects attached by very thin chains or threads trailing behind the saddle, similar to the triangular markings on the back of the present lot behind the aperture. Certain kings ride without reins and one without any bridle at all (Pope, 1981, Pl. 218); although others have a curb bit and simple curved cheek bars. The bridle usually consists of a head-stall and throat lash, which are continuous, and join to a forehead strap and cheek straps with an ornamental button device below the ear. The jaw-strap and nose band join the cheek straps, and often the nose band is attached to the forehead strap by a vertical band that runs between the eyes. The mane is usually hogged and the forelock tightly ringed at the base so it resembles a plume, and the tail elaborately knotted. Saddles, where used, had low arched cantles and sometimes padded blankets.

    Parcel-gilt silver dishes are a particularly good resource for horse imagery. A 7th Century dish in the Hermitage Museum (Hofkunst van de Sassanieden. Het Perziche rijk tussen Rome en China [224-642], Exhibition Catalogue, Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis, Brussels, 1993 (Inv. S-297; pp. 190-91, no. 50) depicts a ruler on horseback shooting gazelles, with its tail tied in a similar arrangement to that on the Bonhams horse; another dish in the Hermitage (Inv. S-253; ibid, p. 193, no. 52) depicts Shapur II hunting lions on horseback, the horse sharing a flame-like forelock; a third dish in the Hermitage of the 7th/ 8th Century (Inv. S-247; ibid., pp. 196-97, no.54) depicting an aristocrat hunting wild boar and a lion, his horse with an animal tail suspended from the crupper, whereas on the present lot it hangs from the saddle-cloth or saddle was once attached. A ceramic horse head from the 7th/8th Century, found at Nizamabad in Persia, displays the same treatment of the mane along the neck, and also a pendant suspended from the forehead (Alexander, 1996, Vol. II, p. 124, no. 95). An early fresco of a mounted warrior from the 7th Century, found in the Soghdian city of Panjikant on the Silk Road, can be found in the Hermitage (Inv. SA 15902/3; Alexander, 1996, p. 226, no. 188).

    During the time of the Prophet riders rode bare-back, or just used saddle-cloths or blankets. al-Bhukari, for example, recorded a tradition that the Prophet was seen riding an "unsaddle horse with his sword hung over his shoulder (Al-Bukhari, Muhammad ibn Ismail, al-Sahih, Vol IV, Cairo, 1987, p. 79. The earliest known depiction of a saddle from the Islamic period can be seen on a fresco from the Umayyad palace Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi in the Syrian desert, which depicts a low-backed saddle with a curved pommel. A similar type of saddle is also seen in a Seljuk manuscript of Varqa va Gulshah dating to c. AH 622-48/ AD 1225-50 (Alexander, 1996, ibid., pp. 64-7, no. 58).

    The present lot is a significant addition to a known body of theriomorphic figurines and vessels, both in terms of modelling and comparison of stylistic detail in other media of the transitional Post-Sassanian era.

    A similar Sassanian horse was sold at Christie's Fine Antiquities, London May 31, 1979, Lot 277.
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