Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Other Great Achaemenid Palace: Susa

Louvre, from Susa.  Like the glazed brick wall visible behind the people for scale, this beautifully mounted  typical addorsed capital on vertical volutes (used in Traditional Art History blog to illustrate, as usual, the Achaemenid type), comes from the OTHER Apadana, that at Susa.
In the age of Information Technology, the ministries long housed in the long wings on the north side of the Louvre no longer needed to be in the center of Paris—and, I daresay, they also needed more space. I have been given to understand that we owe to François Mitterand the museum's bringing its great Near and Middle Eastern treasures into the brightest naturally lit galleries in the Louvre.  Of course, excavating to reveal the medieval palace and the unique opportunity afforded by excavating down to bedrock in the courtyards before erecting the glass pyramids made the late 20th century one of the great periods in the whole history of the Louvre.
In my youth I had seen the Susa procession of the Darius's Ten Thousand but in photos in grayscale.  On my last visit and with my first digital camera I saw and photographed with everything a 2 megapixel Nikon 775 could do, I saw why the Susa Darius inscription mentioned the Babylonian contribution to this palace.
Yes, the columns are of stone with crossing cedars of Lebanon for the ceiling of the apadana, but all the figural reliefs on the walls are of molded glazed brick.
I do not know whether at Persepolis the reliefs had added color; I think not, since getting paints to adhere was difficult or impossible.  In any case, as at Babylon's Ishtar Gate there can be little doubt that color was desirable.  Also, the cobalt blue of Babylon evidently was unavailable in Achaemenid Persia ('Iran' designates the larger area and for all periods).
Remarkably, the style, the formal, disciplined, highly designed Achaemenid version of Babylonian prototypes corresponds exactly to the glyptic (cut stone) work at Persepolis, both in the animals and in the draped, pleated garments of the processions.  As in the architecture, the remarkable combination of traditional Persian and Elamite building traditions with Egyptian and Ionian elements is the uniform and disciplined creation of the architects and sculptors that Darius had brought to work for him.  No such perfect synthesis is known elsewhere, and its importance is only greater for the Achaemenids and Greeks having carried it east, where it became an essential component of early Buddhist art and architecture.
The more delicate colors on the glazed brick relief at Susa surely is due to their use of their own metal elements.  I'll add a footnote if I can find a laboratory analysis.


There are rooms full of these armed bodyguard.  Also dating from the end of the 6th c. BCE, these exhibit the pleated hems of their full sleeves and of their shirts.  I do not doubt that this detail comes from Late Archaic Greece (Darius says he employed Ionians, after all).  Great pains are taken to match the preserved ancient glaze.  Who would have guessed that their garments were so richly embroidered?
As at Persepolis, where the procession goes upstairs, so does the frieze..
In the center, where right-processing guards meet left-processing guards, there  is a legend, in cuneiform (since the Achaemenids use the writing that is by now as much as 3,000 years old and was devised for wholly foreign Sumerian language.
Our thinking of sphinxes as feminine is late (probably due to the grammatical gender of the Greek word), but the Greek ones of the Late Archaic period also look backward when they guard tombs.

These are lion-griffins.  Notice the careful spiral of the tails.  As I recall, the upper image is more accurate for color.

Saving the best for last, compare both the Assyrian male lions  and the Babylonian ones.  Here we have a feast of design for its own sake but with no loss of fierceness.

The Louvre also has an earlier, Assyrian lion official weight, but I don't have a digital photo of it.    The comparison in all media is similar.  When the Assyrian weight was made, money was not yet widespread, but by the time of Darius I, the Ionians and Lydians were minting a lot, and one or both of them minted Darics for Darius.

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