Home Interior Design Who reigned supreme, Persia or Greece? Judge for yourself about these 5 ancient symbols of luxury and power, now on display in the British Museum

Who reigned supreme, Persia or Greece? Judge for yourself about these 5 ancient symbols of luxury and power, now on display in the British Museum

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History has long pitted Persian and Greek societies as moral opposites – the former a culture of hedonists, and the latter defined by unabashed self-discipline. A new exhibition titled “Luxury and Power: Persia to Greece,” on view at the British Museum until August 13, re-examines this outdated, Orientalist worldview. Instead, it illustrates how sensual aesthetics permeated Persian culture and then fascinated Hellenistic craftsmen and consumers, especially once Alexander the Great conquered the Achaemenid Empire after a 10-year invasion in from 334 BCE.

Look around you, you will find that these tensions between denunciation and the lust for opulence persist today. In effect, other writers have questioned the British Museum’s hosting of this exhibition as disputes over the Parthenon Marbles and the institution’s colonialist origins persist.

Exploring the symbolic power of luxury itself through the lens of this particular origin story, the compact exhibition brings together 500 years of artifacts from the museum’s own collection alongside loans from superstars like Bulgaria’s Panagyurishte hoard. Objects such as iridescent drinking vessels join jewelry, reconstructed costumes, authentic grave reliefs, and more in a dramatically appropriate setting filled with columns and billowing fabrics. If you can’t see “Luxury and Power” in person, here we have five highlights for you to savor.

Greek Sphinx vessel, dated to around 470-450 BCE

Pottery rhyton in the form of a seated sphinx, attributed to the painter Sotades, Greece, circa 470-450 BC. Courtesy of the British Museum

Some reviews wondered how successfully “Luxury and Power” synthesizes cultures through its chronological format, but this vessel of standing sphinxes is a strong example to the point of the museum, transforming a form of sculptural collage into functional design. And while there are no real spirits on offer in the galleries, wine proves to be a prolific status symbol across the show, ubiquitous across the wide variety of drinking vessels like amphorae and kylixes. to be seen, many in the form of animals like boars and lions as well as mythical beasts. The earliest depictions of the lion-eagle-woman hybrid date back to the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt in the 4th century, but another, of course, famously appears in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.

Golden oak wreath, probably from the Dardanelles region of Turkey, dated to 350-300 BCE

A wreath of golden oak. Courtesy of the British Museum

This jewel, from the museum’s collection, balances the precious metal with delicate natural motifs. Tiaras like these have been found at burials and temple dedications, the museum website said, and have been offered as prizes in various contests. This specimen features 15 acorns, two cicadas, and a bee, if you can find them nestled among the oak leaves. Bees and acorns are mere emblems of abundance, but cicadas send many contemporary people screaming like the insects themselves. Since ancient times, across cultures, they also evoke the endless organic life cycle of decay and renewal.

Recent recreation of the Persian riding dress of 500 BCE (seen at right)

Installation view “Luxury and power”. Courtesy of the British Museum

Contemporary sites are always stunning in this show, including this recreation of a Persian riding dress. Unlike England, the Achaemenid Empire never had an outright crown. museum item explains, initiates wore a costume adorned with fur and meticulous embroidery much like this and performed a ritual that incorporated elements of hazing. Leaders were forced to drink sour milk and more to humbly remind them of their tribal, nomadic and common beginnings.

Wine vessel from the Panagyurishte treasury, dated to around 300 BCE

Treasure of Panagyurishte, Phiale. © National Museum of History, Bulgaria. Courtesy of the British Museum

Three brothers harvesting clay to make bricks unwittingly stumbled upon a buried treasure, or so goes the story of the Panagyurishte treasure, discovered in 1949. The nine-piece set spans eight pace wine vessels and a drinking bowl, totaling over 13 pounds of fashioned and carved gold that demonstrates both Greek and Persian influence. On loan from Bulgaria, where the brothers first discovered it, ‘Luxury and Power’ marks the first time the Panagyurishte treasure has been on display in the UK since 1976 – a ‘unique opportunity’, according to the museum. This piece, the bowl of the set, features a ring of Escher-esque faces, mouths all open, which become a ring of acorns in the center.

Silver gilt rhyton, Türkiye, dated 5th century BCE

Rhyton in gilded silver © The Trustees of the British Museum

This gem from the museum’s collection would have been used to pour wine into a different version of the drinking trough above. A horned griffin – part lion, part eagle – protrudes from his forehead for added flourish. In a video on infinite time, British Museum curator James Fraser has pointed out the extraordinary detail of this creature, from the ridges of its horn and the splaying of its claws to the fluffy texture of its feathers, although some of these details have been touched up by museum curators. While Fraser repeatedly noted the “supreme luxury” of the object, crowned by festive plants on its lip, the object we see today is missing its original pendant jewel and gold leaf. which would have made up his mane, which makes it even more luxurious. .

Luxury and power: from Persia to Greeceis on view at the British Museum, Great Russell St, London, until August 13.

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