The Shapur Plate: From Sasanian Iran to the Freer Gallery of Art
"I, Shapur, king of kings, partner with the Stars, brother of the Sun and Moon, to my brother Constantius Caesar offer most ample greeting.…"
Like Shapur's flowery letter to the Roman emperor Constantine, this masterpiece of silverwork presents Shapur II as a ruler of the universe, the king of kings.
It was produced during the fourth century CE for Shapur II, the Sasanian king who is identified by his distinctive crown. He was one of the most powerful rulers of the Sasanian dynasty, which controlled Iran and much of the Ancient Near East from 224 to 651 CE. During Shapur's reign, scenes depicting the king hunting gazelle, boars, bulls, and ibex were important metaphors for royal power. The plate, like several other similar examples, was presented as a gift to dignitaries or was displayed prominently in the Sasanian palace to assert Shapur's sovereignty.
This Sasanian plate, however, was not discovered in Iran, but in Russia. Its journey from Iran to Russia and then to the United States and the Freer Gallery of Art is as important to its identity as was its role in the Sasanian court. Acquired by a wealthy Russian noble family, the Stroganovs, on the borderlands of Siberia, it was displayed in their palace in Saint Petersburg until the Russian Revolution of 1917. In 1934 it became one of the first works of Sasanian art to enter the United States, and it is among the most important Sasanian objects in an American museum today.