LOST ART: Ancient Iranian Bronzes in the Union College Permanent Collection

January 22nd – March 25, 2018

Horse Bit, double twisted wire, possibly Iranian from Luristan, copper alloy, n.d., possibly 1300-650 B.C.E., gift of Carl and Gail George, Union College Permanent Collection, 1996x.1.34 UCPC

Union College’s Permanent Collection of art and artifacts includes an uncommon and exceptional collection of bronze weaponry and horse fittings from ancient Iran, generously donated by Professor Emeritus Carl George. This exhibition will feature the majority of the collection, which is representative of the famed but ill-fated Luristan bronzes that have intrigued and confounded museum curators, scholars, and archaeologists since the 1920s when they began to show up on the European and American art markets.

Geographically, the historical Luristan region consisted of small plains and valleys separated by the high, treeless Zagros mountains, and the formidable Kabir Kuh range, which bisected its ancient boundaries and helped create a region difficult to infiltrate and capable of sustaining only small populations. From this daunting landscape emerged a rich, stylistically unparalleled metalworking industry that began as early as the 4th millennium BCE, with a main period of production from 1300/1250 to 700/650 BCE, during the Iranian Iron Age.

The canonical Luristan bronzes were formed using the lost wax casting process and include beautiful, figurative whetstone handles; “finials” and “standards” whose intended use is still obscure; fearsome spike-butted axe blades and decorated halberds among many other weapon types; unusual, disc-headed pins; pendants designed as miniature versions of bells, model ceramic vessels, booted feet, and stamp seals; and extraordinary horse bits with elaborate cheek-pieces that have surpassed most other Near Eastern examples in form, technique, and appearance. Many of these object types are indigenous to the region and incorporate the unfamiliar and bizarre iconography that distinguishes and renders the Luristan tradition so recognizable.

Union College is fortunate to possess a collection of nearly 100 objects allegedly from this unusual oeuvre of ancient Iranian archaeology. Although spike-butted axes and decorated halberds are not among Union’s holdings, the College does have many of the typical Lur weapon types, including a mace, an adze, a plain halberd, tanged daggers, swords, and spearheads, as well as two examples of the later 2nd millennium BCE innovation of single cast, flanged daggers. Union holds several Luristan-style pins, as well as one decorated with the grotesque head of the human bull character that figured so prominently in the Luristan canon. Our collection also includes several of the rather peculiar pendant types for which Luristan is known, including a stamp seal and several miniature bells and model vessels. In terms of horse fittings, Union has a good sampling including a double twisted snaffle bit, a pair of gently curved cheek-pieces, various bridle ornaments, bells, and even a striking quadruped figurine, likely a horse or a Persian onager, the native equine of Iran.

– Sarah Mottalini, Curatorial Assistant of Art Collections and Exhibitions

There will be an accompanying curator’s talk and reception to celebrate the patronage and donations of esteemed Professor Emeritus Carl George on Tuesday, January 30th, 2018, from 12:55 – 1:45 pm. Light refreshments will be served. This event is free and open to the public.

This exhibition is generously co-sponsored by Schaffer Library.


Curator's Talk & Reception

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

12:55 – 1:45 PM

Schaffer Library., Lally Reading Room

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