True Love (Colossal Bull Head from Persepolis)

It’s official.  I’ve fallen in love, and I’ve fallen hard.  The object of my affection has big beautiful eyes, wonderfully styled hair, and elegantly curved nostrils. It’s not often that you admire the nostrils on your true love, but take a look. I’m sure you’ll agree that they’re worth admiring:

Colossal Bull Head, dark gray limestone, from Iran: Persepolis, Hundred Columned Hall, 486-424 BCE; now in the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

Isn’t he gorgeous?  Here’s another view:

Colossal Bull Head, from Iran: Persepolis, Hundred Columned Hall, 486-424 BCE; now in the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

He’s not all looks, either.  In fact, his original context makes him even more attractive.  He’s from Persepolis, in modern-day Iran, and more specifically, he stood at the entrance to the Hundred-Column Hall.  It doesn’t get more romantic sounding than that!  This bull’s body was in relief and was left there, on the gates to the Hundred-Column Hall. (The heads were found on the ground nearby.)

800px-Persepolis_P100c_NPG_bull

Modern view of reconstructed head of a bull and the body on the gate, Persepolis (in modern-day Iran). (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Persepolis_P100c_NPG_bull.jpg)

Let me tell you a little bit about Persepolis, then we’ll get back to my boyfriend.  Persepolis was a capital city built in what was then Persia (modern-day Iran) by the kings of the Achaemenid (ack-uh- MEN-id) Empire. You may have heard of Cyrus the Great and the Cyrus Cylinder.  Well, he was the first Achaemenid king.  Other Achaemenid kings include Xerxes (ZERK-seez) and several Dariuses, the third of whom was defeated by Alexander the Great.  You might remember seeing him in the famous Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii:

Alexander Mosaic, 100 BCE, found at the House of the Faun in Pompeii, now in the Naples National Archaeological Museum

Alexander Mosaic, 100 BCE, found at the House of the Faun in Pompeii, now in the Naples National Archaeological Museum

Darius III is in the center with the yellow headdress; Alexander the Great is bare-headed on our left.  (If you saw the recent and mediocre movie about Alexander the Great, they re-enact this battle with a similar-looking Darius.  Really the only reason for seeing the movie.)

Cyrus’s grandson, Darius I, began building Persepolis in around 515 BCE as the capital of the extensive Achamenid Empire. Persepolis was envisioned as a place to showcase the extent and talent of the Persian (Achaemenid) Empire, which at its height stretched from northern Greece to Pakistan, from Egypt to Iran, and included the Middle East and many of the countries that made up the former Soviet Union (Georgia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, etc).

The Achaemenid Empire at its height.

The Achaemenid Empire at its height.

The reliefs that decorate the Apadana (Reception Hall) at Persepolis, although it looks like the same person could be depicted over and over, oompa loompa style, actually show differences in dress, hair, and beards, to indicate natives of the countries that made up the empire.

 

(I’m going to try to restrain myself and not show you all of the hundreds of images that I just drooled over at the Oriental Institute website.  If you’re interested, take a look.  They’re truly incredible.)

Persepolis, Apadana with Darius's Palace in the background, Oriental Institute (Chicago) photo from the 1930s

Persepolis, Apadana with Darius’s Palace in the background, Oriental Institute (Chicago) photo from the 1930s

And some details, so you can see how different nationalities were represented.  How fun must that have been (and sometimes frustrating, I’m sure) for the archaeologists to identify all of those nationalities by dress and details:

Persepolis - Apadana, E Stairway, Three Rows of Reliefs Depicting Tribute-Bearing Delegates.

Persepolis – Apadana, E Stairway, Three Rows of Reliefs Depicting Tribute-Bearing Delegates.

Persepolis - Apadana, E Stairway, Tribute Procession, the Saka Tigraxauda Delegation, Oriental Institute, Chicago

Persepolis – Apadana, E Stairway, Tribute Procession, the Saka Tigraxauda Delegation, Oriental Institute, Chicago

Persepolis - Apadana, E Stairway, Tribute Procession, the Bactrian Delegation.

Persepolis – Apadana, E Stairway, Tribute Procession, the Bactrian Delegation.

Persepolis - Apadana, E Stairway, Detail of an Ethiopian Tribute Bearer.

Persepolis – Apadana, E Stairway, Detail of an Ethiopian Tribute Bearer.

These reliefs show people from all of the different groups in the empire, bringing tribute for the king.. How calm! How peaceful!  What a powerful piece of propaganda!  Imagine visiting dignitaries, coming to see the king of the powerful Achaemenids, being confronted with hundreds of figures, calmly walking toward the king, presenting goods to him as a show of respect and submission.

The bull head at the beginning of the post is from the Throne Hall, seen in the foreground here:

throne hall

Persepolis, Throne Hall, with Darius’s Palace and the Apadana in the background. Photo from the 1930s, Oriental Institute, Chicago

How cool is this: His ears and horns were made separately and were never found. I think that I read somewhere (though can’t find it now) that this may have been so that these parts, which stuck out so much, could be replaced if they broke off and the rest of the sculpture wouldn’t be damaged.  Smart!

Throughout all of these sculptures, you can see how prominent pattern was: in the detail on the bull, the program of reliefs at Persepolis, and even the repetitive nature of the people bringing tribute from all over the empire, who may look different in detail but still look uniform from further away, forms a pattern.  Why? No idea, and a little bit of digging revealed nothing. And I guess it doesn’t really matter.  Uniform beauty. Maybe that’s what they were going for.

One more thing before we go.  This is my second favorite object in the room:

Fragment of Man-Bull Capital

Fragment of Man-Bull Capital

A nose.  With bits of mustache and beard. From a capital that would have supported the ceiling, like this:

Man-Bull Capital

Man-Bull Capital, 486-465 BCE from Persepolis, Oriental Institute, Chicago

It would have looked like this, two of them at the top of a column:

Man-Bull Capital from Persepolis, 486-485 BCE, Oriental Institute, Chicago

Man-Bull Capital from Persepolis, 486-485 BCE, Oriental Institute, Chicago

I love that you can closely examine the nose, then the whole sculpture to see how it would have looked in full, and a drawing to show it in situ.  Just for fun, here’s Persepolis today:

Persepolis panorama, 2006. Click on the image to zoom and for attribution.

Persepolis panorama, 2006. Click on the image to zoom and for attribution.

So there you have it.  My love will remain where he is, for all to admire, which is as it should be.  We’ll see each other from time to time, gaze into each others eyes, then go about our lives.  Go see him if you can, and blow him a kiss for me.

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8 thoughts on “True Love (Colossal Bull Head from Persepolis)

  1. Beautifully done, thanks! I lived in Ethiopia for 16 years and the representation of the Ethiopian (although a different region then) is beautiful, immediately recognisable. I lived there when Emperor Haile Selassie was Guest of the Sha in Persepolis, about 1965?

    • Hi Eric –
      Thanks! Ethiopia is fascinating — wish I knew more! Read Cutting for Stone a few years ago and loved it, though don’t know how an expert such as you would feel about it. I think it was 1971 when Haile Selassie visited Persepolis (at least that’s what the pics I’ve found tell me) – does that sound possible? Thanks for commenting — glad you liked it!
      -Karen

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