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Home > Auctions > 1st September 2020 > Western Asiatic Achaemenid Lion-Headed Beaker

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LOT 0245

GBP (£) 40,000 - 60,000
EUR (€) 44,320 - 66,470
USD ($) 52,540 - 78,810

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£40,000 (EUR 44,316; USD 52,537) (+bp*)

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Western Asiatic Achaemenid Lion-Headed Beaker

5th-4th century BC

A spectacular pale-green aqua glass lion-headed beaker or rhyton of exceptional quality, with chamfered rim and conical body with eighteen graduated circumferential ribs, thickened collar with notches indicating the mane and incised ears, lion-head finial with gaping mouth; eyes, teeth, nose and muzzle with wheel-cut detailing. 257 grams, 16cm (6 1/4"). Very fine condition. An excessively rare museum piece similar to the famous 'Shumei beaker'.

Condition report [Click to show]

Previously the property of a Surrey gentleman; acquired 2010 from a private European collector living in South Kensington, London, UK; previously acquired in 1991; accompanied by a positive five page scientific report written by glass specialist Professor Julian Henderson, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., F.S.A., dated 26 June 2019.
See von Saldern, A. Glasrhyta Festschrift für Waldemar Haberey, Mainz, 1976 for discussion; Trowbridge, M.L. Philological Studies in Ancient Glass, Urbana, 1930; Barag, D. Western Asiatic Glass in the British Museum, London, 1985; a comparable piece is found in the Miho Museum, Shiga 529-1814, Japan, known as the 'Shumei beaker'.
The luxury glass items produced in the Achaemenid Empire were of exceptional quality, made in the royal workshops at Persepolis, Susa and Ecbatana, possibly utilising the skills of Assyrian workmen. The peak of craftsmanship is associated with the 5th century BC in the city of Persepolis under Darius and his successors Xerxes and Artaxerxes I.
The glass is transparent and clear with a slight green tinge (described as 'aqua' in the literature), a technique which began in Assyria in the 8th century BC replacing the earlier highly coloured opaque forms of glass which were intended to imitate gemstones and faience. These were produced using the core-form process which appears at around the same time in Egypt and Mesopotamia, mainly in connection with polychrome mosaic glass pieces. The intention with aqua glass was to imitate rock crystal and to enable engraving. There are several known examples in Europe dating to the 7th century of glass vessels with deliberate colour-reduction and rather thick walls, which are probably of Assyrian origin, and which are direct precursors of the Iranian material which in turn inspired Aegean and other craftsmen. The prototypes for the design are all found in precious metal (mainly silver) beakers and other vessels. In the play Acharnians by Aristophanes (first performed in Athens in 425 BC) it is reported that Athenian ambassadors to the Persian court at Ecbatana 'drank sweet wine from vessels of gold and glass' (Trowbridge, 1930, 134).
Persepolis's treasury revealed, during excavations in the 1930s, a wealth of clear or aqua glass vessels, many with cut decoration and made in moulds. The decorative device of fluting or grooving was applied to a variety of artefact types, typified in the lotus bowls of Achaemenid Persia and its successors which are mainly of silver although glass examples are known (mainly aqua or pale blue in colour). These items form a cohesive group (of which the present piece is an example) of highly accomplished vessels and other items which emanate from the workshops established beside royal residences in Achaemenid Iran.