Lion-Shaped Spouted Horn

1st century B.C.

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, United States

A lion's head and torso, with inlaid garnet eyes, open roaring mouth, and bulging veins, leaps out from the curved body of this large Parthian silver rhyton. Gilding accentuates elements like the mane and the veins in the legs. The quality of workmanship and materials and the subject of this rhyton--a lion--communicate the original owner's wealth and status. The lion had royal associations in Near Eastern art and was a symbol of nobility and courage. The term rhyton comes from the Greek verb meaning "to run through," and depictions of rhyta on Greek vases show that they were used to aerate wine . Wine poured into the top of the vessel comes out of the spout between the animal's legs. Stylistic features suggest that this rhyton was made in northwest Iran in the first century B.C. Iran had been part of the Achaemenid Persian Empire until Alexander the Great conquered it. After his death in 323 B.C., the Hellenistic Greek Seleucid dynasty, whose kingdom stretched from Turkey to Afghanistan, ruled the area. As Seleucid authority began to weaken in the later 200s B.C., a group of semi-nomadic people from the steppes of south central Asia called the Parthians challenged the dynasty; by the mid-100s B.C., they had firm control of this area of Iran. This complicated political history left its legacy in the art of the area. The floral motifs on the rhyton are drawn from Seleucid art, while rhyta of this form had a long history in earlier art of Iran.


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