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The "Stroganov Plate" (or Freer Shapur plate)
A Sasanian King Hunting Boar
Iran; 4th century; Silver and gilt; H x Diam: 5 x 24 cm (1 15/16 x 9 7/16 in)
Accession Number: F1934.23
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Collection
An extract from Ancient Iranian metalwork in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art
4th century A.D.
Silver and gilt: hammered, cast, chased, engraved, gilded; with added decoration
Height 4.7 cm
Rim diameter 24.0 cm
Weight 870 g
Freer Gallery of Art, 34.23
Purchased from Hagop Kevorkian, 1934
Found at Weirano, Perm Oblast, Russia, 1872
Formerly in the Stroganov collection
Exhibited: Freer Gallery of Art, from 1935.
Smirnov 1909, 6, 14, pl. XXIX, no. 57;
Erdmann 193b, 202, with bibliography;
Chase 1968, 78-85;
Atil 1971, no. 51;
Harper and Meyers 1981, 61-63, 127, 171;
Herrmann 1989, 761.
A GILDED BAND encircles the interior rim of this plate with a low ring foot.
Separately made and attached features in high relief, gilded, on silver ground,
decorate most of the interior. The face, neck, and hands of the king have been
The interior scene consists of a royal figure hunting boars with bow and
arrow while mounted on a charging horse moving to the right. One animal
flees to the right; a second animal, wounded, stumbles beneath the horse.
The head of the king, shown in three-quarter view, is modeled in high
relief. He wears a beaded diadem with streamers and a crenelated crown
topped by a vertically striated globe, from which streamers (ungilded?) are
tied. His curled hair is pulled together in a ball at the back of the head, and his
beard is short. He wears a long-sleeved tunic and full trousers gathered at the
calf. The tunic has a beaded border at the neck and is belted at the waist; over
it is a beaded halter with streamers fluttering to the left. The shoes are tied
with ribbons. The earring consists of a bead and an oval pendant. The hilt of
the sword is shown above the horse's back. The quiver case, suspended trom
the king's belt, is divided into three registers; the short, uppermost register
and the tall, central register are decorated with curvilinear patterns, the lowermost register is crosshatched.
The horse moves in a flying gallop, the right foreleg modeled entirely in
relief. Three flamelike tufts emerge from the crenelated mane. A dotted
lozenge pattern decorates the saddle blanket; palmettes hang from the harness
bands. Streamers flutter from the head harness, back harness, and tail.
The solid-cast foreleg of the horse overlaps the boar in the field to the
right. The boar runs with front legs bent and rear legs outstretched. A second
boar, wounded by an arrow in the right shoulder, stumbles beneath the horse.
The left foreleg is partly extended, the right foreleg is bent under, the left rear
leg is extended on the ground, and the right rear leg is outstretched.
Probably the best-known work of ancient Iranian metalwork in the Freer collection, the Stroganov or Shapur plate has been frequently reproduced as a
splendid illustration of the Sasanian royal hunting plate. Formerly in the collection of Count Stroganov in Saint Petersburg, the plate was first published in
1909 by I. I. Smirnov in a volume devoted to oriental silver.1 Acquired by the
Freer Gallery of Art in 1934, the Stroganov plate was perhaps the earliest
example of Sasanian silver from a Russian collection to reach the United
States.2 It was also one of the first Sasanian silver vessels to receive a detailed
Most discussions of the plate have focused on the royal figure, using the
evidence of the crown type to establish his identity. In his 1909 publication
Smirnov identified the figure as the Sasanian king Shapur II (r. A.D. 309-79),
based on a comparison of the crown with one depicted on coins of that ruler.
Yet the innovation in royal headgear that appears on the plate - the striated
globe - does not occrur on royal images known from Sasanian coins. The identity of the royal figure on the Freer plate cannot, therefore, be established
through numismatic comparisons. The striated globe occurs among royal representations on Sasanian rock reliefs and on a lifesize silver head in the
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which Prudence Harper has identified as a portrait of Shapur II on the basis of comparisons with the Taq-i Bustan
investiture relief depicting the ruler.4 Precisely what the striated globe was
intended to represent has not yet been determined. Ernst Hersfeld suggested
that the striated globe formed part of battle dress, a feature of royal headgear
associated with helmets rather than royal crowns. The striated globe is also
found on some of the royal crowns depicted on Kushano-Sasanian coins; most
scholars, however, would opt for a Sasanian origin of the feature and a later,
Kushano-Sasanian imitation. Among Sasanian royal hunting plates, the striated
globe occurs only on three other examples: the Metropolitan plate depicting a
royal figure identified as the Sasanian king Yazdgard I (r. A.D. 399-421); a
plate in the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, depicting a hunter wearing
a ram's horn headdress; and a second hunting plate in the Freer Gallery .5
Three other hunting plates depict royal figures that have often been identified as Shapur II. Two are in the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg; one
was part of a treasure recovered at Pereshchepina, north of the Black Sea, and
the other was found at Touroucheva, west of Perm. The Pereshchepina plate is
damaged, and the royal headdress is incompletely preserved; for that reason it
is not certain that Shapur's headgear was originally represented. Moreover, a
halo encircles the head, a feature that does not otherwise appear on identifiable kings on Sasanian silver vessels until the reign of Yazdgard I.6 Features
linking the Pereshchepina and Freer Shapur plates are the composition, the
high-relief modeling of the head, and some details of dress and ornaments. But
the figure on the Pereshchepina plate does not wear a beaded halter, a feature
of royal dress that became standard in representations beginning with Shapur
II.7 The figure on the Touroucheva plate wears a crown of Shapur II attested
on coins, but the style of the figure, drapery, and animals departs significantly
from Sasanian representations. Harper has suggested that the work is a provincial, eastern product of the fourth century, dating to the reign of Shapur II.8
A third plate depicting a royal hunter frequently identified as Shapur II is a
small silver-gilt dish showing the king on a stag.9 It is in the British Museum,
London, and was purchased in Iran, with an alleged source in Asia Minor. The
plate is highly unusual among royal hunting plates. It is smaller and deeper than
most examples, and the hunter is depicted - exceptionally - sitting astride a
stag, grasping its horns with his left hand and with his right plunging a sword
into the animal's neck. A second stag, perhaps already dead, appears beneath
the king and his mount. A fourth-century date for the British Museum Shapur
plate has been argued by Harper and Meyers on stylistic and technical grounds.
Since the hunter wears a crown of Shapur I (r. A.D. 241-72), the plate would
then be interpreted as an intentional representation of that ruler made during
the reign of Shapur II.10
Harper has classified the Freer Shapur plate with a group of royal hunting
plates depicting Sasanian kings wearing crowns closely resembling those
known from coins and rock reliefs. This group includes the British Museum
Shapur plate, the Cleveland Hormizd plate, the Metropolitan Yazdgard I and
Peroz-Kavad I plates, the Ufa plate, the Strelka plate, the Berlin plate, and the
Anikovska plate. The group also adheres closely to a standard composition, in
which the quarry, usually two animals, is always of the same species.11
The Freer Shapur plate is the only one of the central Sasanian group of
royal hunting plates to depict a boar as the hunter's sole quarry. Varaz, "boar,"
was the name of a powerful family in the eastern part of the Sasanian realm,
and Harper has suggested that the boars depicted on the Freer Shapur plate
may have symbolized attacks on eastern enemies or regions.12 The eastern
source of several other hunting plates depicting boar as the sole quarry might
be thought to support this interpretation. One of these, a plate recovered
from the Perm region, depicts a hunter wearing a ram's horn headdress. The
linear style of the hunter's drapery links the plate to early Sasanian silver vessels bearing medallions enclosing portraits or busts,
and the elemental composition of the silver also distinguishes the vessel from the central Sasanian
group. Harper has suggested that the plate is a product of an eastern, fourth-century workshop.13 Two additional plates are also attributed by Harper to a
fourth-century, eastern workshop, perhaps located in the vicinity of Merv in
Turkmenistan.14 The fourth plate depicting boar as the sole quarry is an
engraved and spot-gilded vessel, now in the Hermitage; on both iconographic
and stylistic grounds it probably belongs late in the Sasanian period.15 In addition to these four plates, two hunting plates picture a boar along with two
other animals of different species as the royal hunter's quarry. Both these
plates depict a royal figure wearing an identifiable Sasanian crown but diverge
in iconographv, style, and elemental composition from those of the central
Sasanian group of silver-gilt hunting plates.16
The Freer Shapur plate displays several new iconographic or stylistic features that subsequently became standard in the representation of the royal
hunter in Sasanian silver plate. The first was the beaded halter. Another innovation was the rendering of drapery in a paired-line style, which became the
style most commonly employed in the decoration of Sasanian silver vessels.
The source of this drapery representation has been discussed by several
authors, most of whom would place it in northern India as a Gandharan or
1. Smirnov 1909, 6, 14, pl. XXIX, no. 57.
2. See this volume, p. 14, for the early history of Sasanian metalwork in North American collections.
3. Chase 1968, 78-85. A technical examination of the plate made subsequently by Pieter Meyers was published in Harper and Meyers 1981, 171, no. 15.
4. Harper and Meyers 1981, 61-62, with additional references; also Harper 1966, 141-42.
5. Harper and Meyers 1981, pis. 16, 23. For reference to the Kushano-Sasanian coins: Harper and Meyers 1981, 61-62, with bibliography.
6. Harper and Meyers 1981, 60 n. 103, 98 n. 242.
7. Harper and Meyers 1981, 82.
8. Harper and Meyers 1981, 197.
9. Harper and Meyers 1981, 57-60, 58 n. 95, lists previous identifications of the figure as Shapur II.
10. Harper and Meyers 1981, 57-60, 170, no. 13. According to Harper and Meyers, the Cleveland Hormizd plate is another example of a plate manufactured later than the figure it depicts (Harper and Meyers 1981, 60-61).
11. Harper and Meyers 1981, 57-72.
12. Harper and Meyers 1981, 139 with nn. 55-56. Best-known among boar-hunting scenes in Sasanian art are the reliefs in the grotto at Taq-i Bustan: Fukai and Horiuchi 1969, pls. XLIV-XLVI, LV- LVI, LVIII, LX. For the boar as a subject in stucco decoration, see Kroger 1982, 59-60, 177, 201.
13. Harper and Meyers 1981, 72-73, 133-34, pl. 23.
14. Prudence Harper in Bothmer 1990, 58-59, no. 43. The second plate was recovered in 1981 from the tomb of a military official named Feng Hetu (A.D. 483-501); the tomb was located west of Datong, Shanxi Province. A detailed discussion of this plate is found in Harper 1990.
15. Harper and Meyers 1981, pl. 32.
16. Harper and Meyers 1981, 68-72, pls. 20, 22.
17. Harper and Meyers 1981, 89-98, citing earlier literature. Note especially the discussion by Ingholt 1957, 39.
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