A high quality harness ring, exceptionally detailed and finely worked.
At the top of the central open ring the frontal head of a mouflon or an ibex is shown with very prominent horns, that are finely ribbed and gracefully curve towards the heads of two flanking felines. These are shown creeping up the ring, so that their slightly rounded bodies form part of the ring. The tips of the horns touch the muzzle of the predatory beasts. There is a suspension loop behind the head.
Although this was probably a functional object, the Luristan artists made it into an object of art. Nevertheless, western scientists have been debating the function and scene of objects like this for many years.
Some believe that they were pendants, and point to other instances were the size of the mouflon or ibex horns was exaggerated; it was a popular motif in the art of ancient Iran, that can frequently be found in ornamental objects, beads, and pendants, and was occasionally painted on Late Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age pottery (Vadati, p. 255); for a gold appliqué in the shape of the head of a mouflon (from north-eastern Iran) see for example Maurizio Tosi - C.C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, "Pathways Across Eurasia", entry "Mouflon Head Appliqué" by Shoki Goodarzi, in Aruz - Wallenfels, p. 351-352.
Nevertheless, most associate the category to which our object belongs with horse-harness equipment, although no one is certain concerning their specific function or position; none has been scientifically excavated, nor are they represented in art. It was Moorey who dinstinguished them from cheekpieces, as the opening is generally too large to hold a mouthpiece; he suggested that they were harness rings placed on the shoulders of chariot horses (Muscarella, 164-166).
The scene depicted has also sparked discussion; the absence of written records from the area makes the complex imagery difficult to interpret. Some scholars have expressed their opinion that the scene depicts an archaic myth of the so-called mouflon genie taming wild beasts (for a statuette of the mouflon genie see Vadati, p. 258; Benzel a.o., p 54-55; Aruz - Wallenfels, p. 46-48, or a seal in the Louvre (inv.no. AO 22919), decorated with a genie with a mouflon head). In this aspect the scene resembles the well known "Master of the Animals", which has a similar symmetrical shape. The enormous size of the horns in depictions have been thought to emphasize the symbolic value of the animal (Belloni, no. 15), and it has also been noted that there are scenes, such as rock paintings, in which a curling motive resembling a pair of large mouflon horns was given a central position, although the reason or special meaning for this is now forgotten. Compare the fact that until the beginning of 20th century the horned skull of mouflons was often applied at the entrance of houses in certain rural districts of Iran, as protection against the evil eye, which illustrates the powerful symbolic meaning of the mouflon horns in recent times (Vadati, p. 255).
On the other hand there are many scholars who believe that the scene shows two camivores attacking a mouflon, since the mouths of the predators are open, gripping the tips of the horns, and since they seem to hold the mouflon with their claws, the upper part of the central ring forming the shoulders in that case.
Equally uncertain is the species of the animal depicted in the centre: is it a mouflon or an ibex? Both were known in ancient Iran and were frequently depicted in art, but quite often it is impossible to be certain which of the two is shown; compare for instance Hansen in Aruz - Wallenfels (2003), p. 219; Vadati (2021), p. 255.
- Gian Guido Belloni - Liliana Fedi Dall'Asèn, Iranian Art (London, 1969), no. 15;
- Kim Benzel - Sarah B. Graff - Yelena Rakic - Edith W. Watts, Art of the Ancient Near East. A Resource for Educators (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010);
- John Coolidge (ed.), Ancient Art in American Private Collections. A Loan Exhibition at the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University, December 28, 1954 - February 15, 1955, Arranged in Honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Archaeological Institute of America (Cambridge, Mass., Fogg Art Museum, 1954), pl. XXV, no. 81;
- John Curtis, Ancient Persia (Introductory Guides) (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1989), p. 27, fig. 31;
- John Curtis - Nigel Tallis, The Horse from Arabia to Royal Ascot (London, British Museum Press, 2012), 21;
- Nicholas Engel a.o. (eds.), Bronzes du Luristan. Énigmes de l'Iran Ancien, IIIe-Ier millénaire av. J.C. (Paris, Musées; Musée Cernuschi, 2008), p. 123-124, nos. 88-91;
- Ann Farkas, Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me. May 3 to September 6, 1964, the Jewish Museum New York (New York, NY, Jewish Museum, 1964), no. 104;
- Houshang Mahboubian, The Art of Ancient Iran: Copper and Bronze (London, Philip Wilson Publishers, 1997), p. 186-189, nos. 208-211 and 214-215, for a parallel esp. nos. 208, 211;
- P.R.S. Moorey, Ancient Bronzes from Luristan (London, British Museum Publications, 1974), p. 27, pl. VIIIB;
- P.R.S. Moorey, Ancient Persian Bronzes in the Adam Collection (London, Faber & Faber, 1974), p. 66-67; 87-93, for a parallel esp. p. 89, no. 55;
- Oscar White Muscarella, Bronze and Iron. Ancient Near Eastern Artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988), p. 164-166, nos. 257-263;
- Maurizio Tosi - C.C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, "Pathways Across Eurasia" in Joan Aruz - Ronald Wallenfels (eds.), Art of the First Cities. The Third Millennium B.C from the Mediterranean to the Indus (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003);
- Ali Akbar Vadati, "Hunting in the Forest Steppe: An Examination of the Painted Panel at Takke Rock-Shelter, Bojnord, Northeastern Iran", Journal of Archaeological Studies, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Winter 2021), p. 251-270;
- Éric De Waele, Bronzes du Luristan et d'Amlash, ancienne collection Godard (Louvain-la-Neuve, Institut supérieur d'archeologie et d'histoire de l'art, 1982), p. 82-87, figs. 66-69;
- Gisela Zahlhaas, Luristan. Antike Bronzen aus dem Iran (München, Archäologische Staatssammlungen, 2002), p. 102, no. 213.
Early first millennium B.C.
Width 9.5 cm., height 8.5 cm.
French private collection of Jacob Acheroff, Paris; thereafter Swiss private collection of Jean Olivier; thereafter with Christoph Bacher Ancient Art, Vienna; thereafter Dutch private collection. Comes with a copy of a statement, handwritten by Jacob Acheroff on 26 March 1971, about the provenance.
Intact, with a lovely green-brown patina.