Characteristics of Achaemenid Art

The history of the Achaemenid Empire (550–325 B.C.) "begins with the extraordinary success of Cyrus II, or Cyrus the Great, in overthrowing his Median overlord in the mid-sixth century. Cyrus's conquests, and then his son's, Cambyses's established the boundaries of this continental-sized empire" (Garthwaite 459). 

During this span of roughly two centuries, what artistic elements were frequently used in Achaemenid art? Here are a few: 
  • Stylized shoulder muscles on animals. Anne Roes calls this the "pear-and-apple motive," because of its shapes resembling these fruits (Roes 18). 
  • Stylized thigh muscles on animals. Roes mentions that the treatment of thigh muscles is similar to the treatment of shoulder muscles, explaining that this stylization is called by Salmony the "bow-and-dot motive" (Roes 18). 
  • The bull's curved wing. "After the late sixth century B.C. the curved wing, often with a very concave upper edge, became a hallmark of Achaemenian art" (Moorey and Ryder 93). 
  • Winged bull in a flying gallop. "...certain factors, apart from the garnet inlay, make clear that this particular treatment of the winged bull in a 'flying gallop' belongs to the final phase of Achaemenian art in the fourth century B.C." (Moorey and Ryder 93). 
  • Double skin fold under lions' eyes. "Here, as on almost every Achaemenid lion, we also observe two thick skin-folds under the eyes…" (Roes 23).
  • Unique stylization of bulls' bodies. "The distinctive margins and panels of curled hair on the body and legs of the bulls are a legacy from Urartian even more perhaps than from Assyrian art. … A virtual absence of such panels of hair and greater emphasis on musculation of the body in stylized geometric forms is more characteristic of developed Achaemenian art" (Moorey and Ryder 93). 
  • Achaemenid Court Style glyptic. An archive of texts called the Persepolis Fortification Tablets (published in 1969 and 1978 by Richard Hallock) date to the reign of Darius I (specifically between 509-494 B.C.). The seal impressions on this archive have representational imagery that is "richly varied and includes not only many of the scenes encountered in the traditional repertoire of Near Eastern glyptic art but also some new and unique designs" (Garrison 2). 
Garrison, M.B. "Seals and the Elite at Persepolis: Some Observations on Early Achaemenid Persian Art," Ars Orientalis, Vol. 21 (1991), pp. 1-29.

Garthwaite, G.R., review of The Rise and Organisation of the Achaemenid Empire: The Eastern Iranian Evidence by W.J. Vogelsang, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Third Series, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Nov. 1997), pp. 459-462. 

Moorey, P.R.S., and M. L. Ryder. "Some Ancient Metal Belts: Their Antecedents and Relatives," Iran, Vol. 5 (1967), pp. 83-98. British Institute of Persian Studies.

Roes, Anne. "Achaemenid Influence upon Egyptian and Nomad Art," Artibus Asiae, Vol. 15, No. 1/2 (1952), pp. 17-30. Artibus Asiae Publishers. 

More reading: 
Salmony, A. Gazette des Beaux Arts, XXXV, 1949, p. 6

Vogelsang, W.J. The Rise and Organisation of the Achaemenid Empire: The Eastern Iranian Evidence.


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