Historical and Mythological Contexts in the Visual Foundations of Sassanid Reliefs (Case Study: Ardashir Babakan Relief in Naqsh-e Rustam)
Sassanid reliefs that have joined the ancient Iranian traditions are specifically distinguished from their contemporary arts. Approximately thirty reliefs of the Sassanid Empire age has survived all of which are available in Iran. Most of these works deal with two themes both developed by Ardashir Babakan; one is reception of king symbol from a divine authority, and the other is Sassanid king victory over his enemies. Both of these themes have been simultaneously used in Ardashir Babakan relief- the 3rd century in Gregorian calendar- in Naqsh-e Rustam. The relief’s inscriptions are the oldest governmental inscriptions in Middle Persian (Pahlavi Sassanid) language along with its Ashkani Pahlavi and Greek translations. Despite of the work’s significance in study of Iranian visual art history, most studies about the Sassanid reliefs has addressed and classified these reliefs as far as certain factors such as historical era, dynasty, and work theme are concerned. Purpose of this paper is to develop visual studies via a contemplative probe into Sassanid reliefs, trying to address Ardashir Babakan relief in Naqsh-e Rustam as its main focus. The present study uses descriptive-analytic methodology and includes library and field research. Evident elements of the image were first meticulously examined, and then their relationships underwent a formal analysis to identify the work’s structure, composition, and space. These have been accompanied by search in Iranian myths and pioneering visual scripts to discern themes and concepts behind the relief. The results indicate that, in Ardashir Babakan relief, Ardashir’s legitimacy is represented by means of plastic, iconic and linguistic messages and stratagems using Iranian historical- mythological contexts. Similarity between king (Ardashir) and God (Ahura Mazda) is emphasized via a balance created between two politic and religious victories against Ahriman and fifth Ardavan. The bridge created by the diadem i.e. sovereignty symbol connects two distinct worlds of God and human (king) symbolically. The emphasis on diadem (symbol of sovereignty) image is accompanied by a Sassanid special art method, motion feeling creation, and knot of the diadem over Ardashir‘s crown. Presence of Vayu god, space visualization, and Mithras and Wind gods along with Ahura Mazda symbol blend myth and history. The relief harmony with Naqsh-e Rustam monuments via conscious use of natural light, open and closed directions in the frame, and removal of firebox from of composition, indicates Ardashir relief’s interaction with the space. In other words, the pictorial area is deemed as the work’s space in this relief. Then, in the course of mural tradition, obvious advertising content and features have been attached to the work’s theme. In these reliefs; A) an advertising idea regarding a national event or a kingly action, B) such works’ outdoor presence, in people aggregations, and in their commuting paths, C) simultaneous presence of image and inscription, and D) taste of clients-mainly governmental centers-and its effect on production of these works, indicate an environmental advertising background in Iran. Nonetheless, we must be careful when comparing these works with environmental advertising in its contemporary sense.
Journal of Fine Arts, No. 46, 2012
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