Bracelet with Seated-duck Terminals

  • Iran
  • Persia, Achaemenid period
  • Mid-6th to 4th centuries B.C.
  • Gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise, onyx, rock crystal
  • H-11.7 D-2.4 W-10.5
Catalogue Entry

The jeweler of this bracelet chose ducks as terminal figures and combined them with a rather heavy looking circlet that can be opened. The ducks were fashioned separately, and all the feathers and the eyes were originally characterized by inlays. The ducks' bills are not preserved. The birds are fixed to a single massive tubular circlet, which originally had colored inlays at the junction between the ducks. The use of colored inlays for the details of the feathering is a feature of Egyptianizing tendencies in Achaemenid craftsmanship.1 Though the "Great Kings" are known to have employed Egyptian craftsmen,2 the use of this technique does not necessarily imply that the jeweler was an Egyptian, because the technique was widely used on objects of truly Achaemenid style.

The choice of animal is interesting as ducks are rare among the animals on Achaemenid bracelets or torques (see cat. nos. 38, 41). It should be noted that this rather exceptional motif was used on no less than three bracelets now in the Shumei collection (also cat. no. 41, SF000) and that all of these pieces have a rather sturdy appearance, whereas Achaemenid jewelers usually preferred a much more slender concept. All these aspects add up to a highly remarkable picture that considerably widens our conception of Near Eastern jewelry.3

Although details like the turned-back heads of the birds or the depiction of complete animals instead of simply heads or protomes (foreparts) reflect Achaemenid conventions,4 the rather naturalistic articulation and coloration of the feathering is definitely not in keeping with the ornamental standards of Achaemenid art.5 Exceptions are always possible, but it should be noted that the idea of parting the bracelet vertically between the sitting birds is reminiscent of second-century B.C. Hellenistic bracelets fashioned in truly Greek style.6 This piece may suggest that the Hellenistic concept could have been derived from much older Achaemenid prototypes, but it seems not entirely impossible that this and the following bracelet (cat. no. 41) actually belong to a group of Achaemenizing objects that draw heavily on Achaemenid conventions but were manufactured after the breakdown of the Achaemenid Empire.7

1. See cat. no. 38, n.6.
2. See cat. no. 38, n.5.
3. For chronological options see also the entry for cat. no. 41.
4. For the turning of the heads, compare, for example, animals on Achaemenid vessels: Amandry 1959, pp. 38-56, pls. 20.1-.4; 21.1-.2; 22.1; 23; Pfrommer 1990a, pp. 198, pls. 36, 40, 41.1, 44.
5. This aspect was already noted by K. Benzel in Metropolitan Museum 1996, p. 54.
6. See Amandry 1953, pp. 113-16, nos. 253, 254, fig. 69, pls. 44, 45; Pfrommer 1990b, pp. 107, 112, TA 12, 13, 109, figs. 16.33, 53.
7. For Achaemenizing art produced three centuries after Alexander the Great see Pfrommer 1996.