B.4. Questions and Interpretation:


a. Questions:

What is going on with this pottery? Are some of the models for it Sasanian? It would not be unlikely in a part of the world that was ruled by successions of Persian dynasties for thousands of years; something like a cultural memory could have preserved certain features and motifs, even after three hundred or so years of Muslim rule. Indeed some features seem to be Sasanian, familiar to us from silver dishes which survive: for example, the horses have small stiffly-arched heads and large barrel-like bodies and wear the same type of bridles. Furthermore, many of the human poses seem to derive from Sasanian iconography: the mounted huntsman with the prey jumping up from behind, the man seated with a goblet in one hand. A jar found at Merv which probably dates to the C5th or C6th is very like this Nishapur type. However, according to Teresa Fitzherbert, there are aspects of Sasanian royal iconography that are absent from these scenes: primarily there are no crowns, in fact there is no obvious hierarchy represented in these figures.

Is this the first occurrence in Islamic iconography of the seated ruler/mounted hunter poses that come to be so popular? After all, this form of royal iconography seems to occur first in the C9th, and it seems to originate in the east. As we have just mentioned, however, there is no indication in the vessels of hierarchy: the motifs are there but they don’t seem to be royal. Furthermore, Wilkinson thinks that the mounted men cannot be hunters because you don’t go hunting with a drawn sword: perhaps the sword is purely a symbol included by the decorators of the pots as an attempt to differentiate the mounted polo players from the mounted hunters, and is not intended to be taken literally.

The representation of the mounted "hunter" is very like the figures who come in the C10th to be identified with Islamic princes on ivory carvings from Fatimid Egypt or Spain, even down to the animal jumping up behind which can be a bird or leopard, and which may be prey or familiar. The seated figures with goblets do not have the royal Sasanian flower or napkin in hand which is adopted in Islamic iconography, but there is still something very similar about them. Are they the first transitional pieces, which now show fossilised the crossing over of motifs from one culture to another?

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