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Work Winged bull between two floral friezes

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Winged bull between two floral friezes

© 2010 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
Giraudon Catherine

This relief of enameled, polychrome bricks found at Susa is of a winged bull passant between two friezes of rosettes and palmettes. The bull is the symbol of the constructive force of the Achaemenian Persian empire.

The white bull

A winged bull with a fine white coat walks proudly toward the right. With its head drawn into its neck and stiff-legged walking gait, the bull's body is animated by the movement of its raised tail. Set off against a background of blue bricks, the white coat of the bull is colored here and there with green and yellow and the blue of the curved wing and little curls along the neck, breast, back and belly. Its round eye is also vividly heightened with blue, as is the line of the nose and the cheek. The bull's gilded horn points foreward, the other hidden by the perfect profile of the subject. The animal's walking gait, with both right legs advancing together, contrary to the natural movement, is a common artistic convention.

A reconstruction

Unlike the Frieze of Lions (Louvre Museum, aod489), this relief is a reconstruction made with scattered bricks found by Jacques de Morgan and Roland de Mecquenem between 1910 and 1913 on the Apadana mound at Susa. The bricks had been reused in later constructions, and this panel was reassembled using scattered fragments. Like the other panels in the Louvre, particularly the Frieze of Archers (Louvre Museum sb3305), it served to decorate the walls of the palace built by Darius I at Susa. This edifice was made up of two groups of buildings: the Apadana, a Persian term for a room with stone columns surrounded by porticoes, and a residence with rooms lit by large courtyards, where the throne room was located. Colored brick reliefs decorated this Mesopotamian type of palace.

The symbolism of the bull

This relief derives from the winged bulls with human heads that decorated the Assyrian palaces such as that of Sargon II at Khorsabad in the late 8th century (Louvre Museum, ao19857 and ao19858). Guardians of the gates of the royal palace, these figures are much heavier in appearance and are represented in both high-relief and in the round. This bull shown on this brick panel is also inspired by the decoration of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, built a century earlier. There are several notable differences, however, between the two creatures: the Babylon bull is not winged; its coat is tawny; its movement less pronounced; and it symbolizes Adad, or Baal, god of storms. The Susian bull, an image of strength and power, protection and defense, personifies the royal authority. The bull figure has also been found in the stone reliefs at Persepolis, with or without wings, also shown in action, in confrontation with a lion.

Bibliography

Mecquenem Roland de, Mission de la Délégation en Perse, t. XXX, Paris, 1947, pp. 64-69, pl. VIII-2.

Technical description

  • Winged bull between two floral friezes

    Circa 510 BC

    Palace of Darius I, Susa, Iran

    Susa, Iran

  • Glazed siliceous brick

    W. 1.83 m; H. 1.40 m

  • Excavations led by Roland de Mecquenem, 1908-13

    Sb 3328, Sb 3329, Sb 3330

  • 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 13, temporarily closed to the public

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Additional information about the work

Photo: ekta 4x5 Larrieu 1997