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Work Rhyton (drinking horn) with gazelle protome

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Rhyton (drinking horn) with gazelle protome

© 1997 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
Herbin Nancie

This silver vessel testifies to the taste for luxury tableware among the dignitaries of the Achaemenid Empire. Animals were often chosen to decorate these splendid pieces in an Iranian tradition reaching back thousands of years. In Iran, animals appeared on painted pottery in the 4th millennium BC, especially on the large bushels found at Susa.

A rhyton in the shape of a gazelle

This vessel, called a rhyton, in the shape of an animal is made up of two parts. The horn itself is decorated along almost its entire lenglth with fluting typical of metal tableware in the Achaemenid period (539-330 BC). The fluting is finished with a narrow gilt metal band decorated with strips alternating with inverted lotus flowers. The rim is smooth and flared.
The horn is fitted into the protome, which still shows signs of gilding, in the shape of a gazelle sitting with its forelegs folded under its chest. It once had antlers slotted into two small protuberances. Most of the details of the animal's body are engraved except for its eyes and eyelids. According to Pierre Amiet, the rhyton is generally in the Achaemenid style, but the realism of the animal's head suggests that it was made in a provincial workshop.

The origins of the rhyton

Rhytons were common in the ancient Near East. However, the first animal-shaped vases seem to have been made in Anatolia early in the 2nd millennium, at the time of the Assyrian trading posts (Louvre, CA 1884). But it was in the 8th century BC that this type of beaker began to become popular in Assyria, as can be seen in the reliefs from Sargon's palace in Khorsabad. The murals depict courtiers drinking from lion-headed cups. Rhytons dating from the 7th century BC have also been found in Iranian Kurdistan, in the region of Ziwiye: two are made of terra-cotta while others are in silver, with a very stylized body (Louvre, ao27909). This stylization heralded the rhytons of the Achaemenid period, which typically have a horn-shaped cup, like this one. Another rhyton in the Louvre (ao3115) is characteristic of classical Achaemenid art in the treatment of the animal, especially at the shoulders. They are decorated with a double ring pattern also found on the enameled bricks of Darius the Great's palace in Susa.

An immense empire

The Persian Achaemenid Empire covered an immense territory stretching from Lydia to the Indus, and from Egypt to the Black Sea. Darius the Great set up a veritable administration and divided his empire into satrapies. He encouraged the development of grandiose, luxurious official art, which became the model for all the provinces of the kingdom.

Bibliography

Amiet Pierre, L'Art antique du Proche-Orient, Paris, Mazenod, 1977, fig. 724, p. 431.
Amiet Pierre, "Rhytons iraniens du musée du Louvre", in La Revue du Louvre, n 2, 1983.

Technical description

  • Rhyton (drinking horn) with gazelle protome

    Late 6th-4th century BC

  • Partly gilt silver

    H. 28.6 cm; D. 13.5 cm

  • Purchase

    AO 3093

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Iran, Persian empire during the Achaemenian period: palace of Darius I to Susa, 6th–5th century BC
    Room 12 a

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Additional information about the work

RMN Ekta no. 97CE15753