Bowl With Man Stabbing A Lion
Height 7.6 cm; Ø 22.2 cm
The twelfth century in Iran saw the development of a style of ceramics in which figuration plays a vital role. Among the techniques employed as part of its visual repertoire, the pieces known as “silhouette ware” stand out for their highly contrasting two-colour scheme. In one group, with a colourless glaze, the figurative repertoire is largely dominant. In a second group, with a turquoise-coloured glaze, it is more marginal. None of these pieces is dated and so it is impossible to deduce from them whether this variation reflects changing tastes or whether the two groups are largely contemporary. The only observation that can be made is that the second group marks a transition, with some features also present in a small group of double-shell pieces (with perforations to the outer layer) bearing dates that take us through to the start of the thirteenth century. In the first group, the profile of the pieces would suggest a slightly earlier dating. This piece is one of the most attractive in this group: the surface is fully occupied by a human figure riding on the back of a lion. He has drawn his dagger from its sheath and is preparing to use it. The strangeness of the scene invites a literary approach to its interpretation. This is probably an image of Bahram Gur. In this image, however, he takes the role of the king who is master of himself, worthy of exercising his royal function because he has overcome his own passions, which are embodied in the lion. We cannot be dealing with a specific episode of the Bahram Gur legend here: instead this is almost a representation of the ideal sovereign, based on a celebrated, highly recognisable literary and moral figure. Rich, luxuriant flora form a delicate circle around the animal, separating it from the scallop shapes that border the rim. Using limited means the artist depicts the action vividly, giving it a lifelike quality that derives partly from the use of three-quarter profile and partly from the border surrounding the scene. The effect is intrinsically pictorial, even though we no longer understand entirely what the scene is intended to convey.
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