Bowl with Silver Appliques

  • Iran
  • Persia, Achaemenid period
  • 5th century B.C.
  • Silver with silver appliques
  • H-5.1 D-12
Catalogue Entry

Shallow metal drinking bowls with depressions (omphali) in the center of the base and strongly everted rims were widely produced in ancient Iran during the Achaemenid period (about 558-331 B.C.).1 While this bowl falls within the broad category of such phialae, it is distinctive both in decoration and technique of manufacture.

The exterior of the bowl was adorned with silver appliqué, including an upper circle of twenty-nine small rosettes above eight plaques of a Persian royal figure battling a lion, a lower circle of seventeen rosettes, and a row of nine seated birds (now completely lost). The battle appliqué (five remain) alternated with eight teardrop-shaped hollow bosses (five also remain), which were attached rather than worked in repouss, as would be typical for a Persian lobed phiale. This detail of the bowl's construction perhaps was followed to allow for a smooth interior rather than the deep depressions that would have resulted from hammered lobes. Both forms of applied decoration are rare, although there is a very similar bowl with six combat plaques alternating with six teardrop bosses in Ankara.2 The Metropolitan Museum's bowl has been identified as of Greek manufacture, but there is no obvious evidence for such an attribution.3 In both examples, a king wearing typically Persian garb battles a standing lion. The lion on this Shumei vessel shares many stylistic qualities with the gold lion appliqué on another Achaemenid bowl in the Shumei collection (see cat. no. 36).

The body of the present Shumei bowl was formed by hammering and the appliqué added by the same technique detailed in the preceding entry. Elemental analysis performed by the Conservation Center at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art revealed that both the vessel and the appliqué are very similar in composition, yet, the silver decoration contrasts noticeably with the body of the bowl and there are substantial differences between the two elements. Pieter Meyers has surmised that this may have been achieved by intentionally patinating the surface of the vessel or allowing it to tarnish naturally, while the appliqué were highly polished.4 Over time, the less porous surface of the polished appliqué would have been more resistant to corrosion. The teardrop-shaped appliqué, however, appear darker than the other appliqué and evidence more corrosion, much like the surface of the bowl-a sign that they were not highly polished.

An incised line encircles the omphalos, which exhibits less corrosion than the surrounding surface of the vessel, suggesting that it might have been covered by an appliqu or else was the area of attachment for a foot. A centering mark is visible on the exterior of the bowl, as is the collector's mark of a v within a triangle just below the rim.

1. For the pre-Achaemenid development of this form see Howes Smith 1986, pp. 1-88. See also Gunter and Jett 1992, pp. 64-73; Muscarella 1988, pp. 218-19, nos. 326-27.
2. Ankara, Museum of Anatolian Civilization: see von Bothmer 1984, p. 25, no. 19. See also Dalton 1964, pp. 8-9, no. 18, pl. VIII, for a shallow gold bowl with appliqué of paired rearing lions and teardrop-shaped bosses.
3. Muscarella, 1988, p. 219, n. 1.
4. Conservation report, 29 July 1995.