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British Institute of Persian Studies

A Chariot Scene from Persepolis Author(s): John Curtis Source: Iran, Vol. 36 (1998), pp. 45-51 Published by: British Institute of Persian Studies Stable URL: Accessed: 08/03/2009 07:59
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The purpose of this short article is to add a footnote to the history of reliefs from the Apadana at Persepolis in Iran. It is hoped that it will be of some small interest to those who are involved in recording the present whereabouts of reliefs from Persepolis (eg. Roaf 1987) and it also throws some light on the activities and exploits of early nineteenth century travellers to Iran. It concerns one relief now in the British Museum and a smaller fragment, which joins on to it, now in the Miho Museum in Japan, a new museum that is set in spectacular mountainous countryside near the small town of Shigaraki northeast of Kyoto. The British Museum relief (P1. IVa; BM 118843), measuring 88 x 56 cm, shows the front part of a chariot box decorated with rosettes round the edge (Barnett 1957: 61, no. 7, pl. XV/3). There are quivers at the front of the box and mounted on the side (only the top is visible). A charioteer grasps a stick and reins which pass over the backs of two horses and run through a terret which must be set on the yoke. Above the terret is a fan-shaped yoke ornament, and a large tassel hangs down from the yoke. It was presented to the British Museum, together with some other relief sculptures and fragments of inscription, in 1817 by the 4th Earl of Aberdeen who later became Prime Minister in the years 1852-5. The Miho Museum fragment, measuring 36 x 41 cm (P1. IVb), shows the heads and necks of two chariot horses.1 The horses have elaborate headstalls decorated with what are usually called boar's tusk ornaments, and their forelocks are tied up in tufts. The horses are controlled by jointed snaffle bits. This piece with the horses heads fits perfectly onto the larger British Museum relief. It was acquired by the Miho Museum in 1994, having apparently once been in the possession of Sir Gore Ouseley, Ambassador to Persia 1811-14. The combined relief (P1.Va) comes from the top register on the East Wing of the Northern Stairwayof the Apadana at Persepolis, which was carved in the early fifth century B.C. The top register is now in poor condition, with the upper part mostly missing, but it would originally have shown a procession of Persian guards followed by an usher and four grooms carrying whips, saddle cloths and a stool, then an usher with three horses and grooms and finally 45

another usher with two royal chariots each pulled by two horses. Our piece is the top part of one of these chariot scenes, and its original position can easily be gauged by reference to Erich Schmidt's publication of the Apadana reliefs (Schmidt 1953: pl. 57). Following Barnett's procedure (1957: pl. XVIII), we have attempted by means of a montage to show how the relief fits into position (Fig. 1). Identical chariot scenes,2 but facing in the other direction, also occur on the much better preserved Eastern Stairway, which is a mirror image of the Northern Stairway (Schmidt 1953: pl. 52). We can see from these (P1. Vb) that the chariots had large twelve-spoked wheels held in position by linch-pins. An interesting feature is the hand-grips at the back of the chariot-box.3 Both reliefs were originally acquired at Persepolis in 1811 by the Hon. Robert Gordon,4 a member of Sir Gore Ouseley's5 mission to Persia and the younger brother of the 4th Earl of Aberdeen. The background to the mission and their visits to Persepolis and activities there are interesting and deserve to be described in some detail. After a successful career in India, becoming proficient in a number of Oriental languages, Sir Gore Ouseley was appointed "AmbassadorExtraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Persian Court" in March 1810. The mission left Portsmouth in July 1810, and they eventually reached Bushire in March 1811. Their voyage took them along the west coast of Africa, across the South Atlantic Ocean to Rio de Janeiro, back across the Atlantic to the southern tip of Africa, then across the Indian Ocean to Bombay, and from there up the Persian Gulf to Bushire. In addition to Sir Gore Ouseley, the mission included his elder brother Sir William Ouseley,6 who acted as his private secretary, James Morier7 who was the secretary to the Embassy, and Robert Gordon who was the attache. Sir Gore Ouseley had been charged by the British government to find out as much as possible about Persia, and this they attempted to do on their way to Tehran which they eventually reached in November 1811. While waiting for his wife to give birth in Shiraz8 he despatched the members of his team on exploratory journeys (Wright 1977: 151). Sir William Ouseley first visited Persepolis for a few days between 4 and 6 May 1811 (Ouseley





Fig. 1. Montage showing original position of British Museum and Miho fragments superimposed on photograph (from Schmidt 1953: pl. 57) of part of Eastern Wing of Northern Stairway of Apadana at Persepolis.

Fig. 2. Drawing byJ. Morier of relieffound at Persepolis by Robert Gordon. From Morier 1818:fig. on p. 114.





FromOuseley1819-23: II, pl. XLV. of reliefin the collection theEarl ofAberdeen. Fig. 3. Drawing of Persepolis

Ker drawingat topright.Photograph by Fig. 4. Drawing of relieffrom Persepolis Sir Robert Porter,with copyof Morier's Museum,St. Petersburg. courtesy StateHermitage of





1819-23: 11, 187-91). Morier had already been there about a week, and Ouseley says he "mentioned that some workmen employed by him [i.e. Morier] in digging had brought to light several beautiful sculptures, concealed probably during many centuries". Later in his book, Ouseley comments (II, 238) that "no traces either of gold or of paint were visible on the figures which Mr Morier's workmen brought to light.., when, with him, I examined them, and should have almost imagined, from their fresh and perfect state, that they had been newly executed". Let us now turn to Morier's account (1818: 75-6, 86-8). He describes how on arrival at Persepolis he found that there were a "quantity of sculptured remains that had fallen from their original positions, and.., were spread around the ruins in great profusion". In particular, there were many fallen pieces in "the front of the staircase, which leads to the great hall of columns". He says that he removed some of these pieces to send them back to England, and on 4 May he "despatched several fragments of sculpture" to the Ambassador. Some bronze and iron arrowheads were acquired from local peasants . He also undertook a short excavation, and in view of the rarity of Morier's book it seems worthwhile to reproduce this part of his account in full: Both Le Bruyn and Chardin have only given one line of figures on the left of the staircase; but as it was evident that in order to complete the symmetry there must have been the same number on the left as there are on the right, I hired some labourers from the surrounding villages, and made them dig. To my great delight, a second row of figures, highly preserved, were discovered, the details of whose faces, hair, dresses, arms, and general character, seemed but as the work of yesterday. The faces of all the figures to the right of the staircase are mutilated, which must be attributed to the bigotry of the first Mussulmans who invaded Persia; those of the newly-discovered figures are quite perfect, which shows that they must have been covered before the Saracen invasion: the nicety of their preservation would lead one to suppose that they had been so protected for many ages before that invasion. The excavations only lasted two days before they were stopped by the local governor who issued an order preventing the local people from working for Morier. The next time Morier visited Persepolis was with the main party, including Sir Gore Ouseley and his wife, who were there between 11 and 13 July 1811 (Morier 1818: 114; Ouseley 1819-23: II, 228-420).9 In Morier's own words: During this interval no discoveries of importance were made. . . Mr Gordon got some villagers to dig for him near the front of the staircase which I had previously cleared away,and he thus brought to light

some interesting fragments. Among others he found a stone upon which is a sculpture of a chariot drawn by two horses, driven by a man standing upright; and another of a caparisoned horse, both of which are so nicely preserved, that every detail of furniture may be most minutely traced (Morier 1818: 114-5). accounts of Gordon's work at Fortunately, Persepolis are contained in letters to his brother Lord Aberdeen which are now preserved amongst the Aberdeen papers in the British Library.10 The principal description is given in a letter written at Isfahan on 21st August 1811: In our way from Shiraz we made Persepolis our second day's stage where we stayed for three days. I am happy to say that in this short time I have been able to dig up some of the best specimens that have yet appeared of Persepolitian workmanship, of which you may form a judgement from the inclosed representations, traced from a drawing of Morier's, and have dispatched them to Bombay; they will proceed from there together with the last cargo sent by me from Shiraz. Sir Gore Ouseley dispatched Morier from Shiraz on public duty (during my journey to Shuster) to Persepolis, as well to give an account of the ruins, as to procure for Sir Gore the best possible fragments. Morier remained there a fortnight and Sir Gore has dispatched to England all that was procured for him in that time, which excepting a few pieces belonging to Morier is all that has gone to England of Persepolitan antiquity save what will be in your possession. Morier tells me (for they were sent before my return) that Sir Gore's specimens are not superior to those of mine sent in the Lion, but that there was a beautiful specimen of the character. This he fortunately dug up, which is the only method of procuring fragments that admit of being moved such is the gigantic nature of the buildings; every thing besides above ground is in a state of mutilation. In my excavations I have not had the fortune to meet with any of the Persepolitan character, and the specimens I have procured are consequently of an inferior nature. A... massive pilaster with a gigantic figure upon it and an inscription over his head, had suffered from its exposure to the sun, or as the zealots maintain the torch of Thais; this induced my attempt to carry off the inscription, which with the assistance of hammers we absolutely peeled off as if it had been a slate. It was much broken in the operation, but such as it is I send it.11 I am carrying with me some small fragments which have the character finer and better executed than what I have sent to you. Perhaps I should not talk of the exquisite workmanship of these two pieces to you who have seen and so well understood the superior beauties of Grecian artists,but I may say that the single horse's head is as much the Achmb of Oriental sculpture as that in Lord Elgin's collection is of the Grecian. I assure you I laboured hard to procure these specimens. A Persian spade is tantamount to an English fire-shovel, and a spadesman to an



housemaid, and it was only by my superintending the work from morning to night, that it was finished in 3 days from these materials, altho' the heat was at 1000 in our tents. I defended myself by wrapping towels under my hat and an umbrella. If you have views of Persepolis, which by the way you must have seen before now in Morier's book, I can explain where the spot is whence these figures were dug up. On either side of the second staircase by which the second terrace is ascended, are rows of different figures in procession: the stonefacing on which the procession has been sculptured originally stood two feet higher than the level of the terrace, but at the destruction of the Temple every thing has been knocked down even with it, leaving for the top of the remaining facade (which they could not throw down from its being fixed so strongly in the rock of which the whole terrace is composed) the lower halves of men, horses and of chariots. It was natural to conclude that the remaining part of this top row in the procession would be found underneath the earth which had accumulated below, even so as to hide the lower figures in the facade; and the event proved the justice of our conclusions. After much digging the two horses heads were turned up,12 a little further on, the single head of a horse and man leading it,13 and at no great distance I had the good fortune to dig up the bodies belonging to the very heads I first discovered, a part of the chariot & chariotteer,14so that they were originally three stones, but as the only method in this country of carrying loads is on the backs of mules, I had reasons to lighten their weight and separate them as neatly as their clumsy hammers will allow of. The Persepolitan stone is full of veins, but as you may suppose, these have divided into many more fragments than I wished or intended. No 1 is however only in two pieces, the other in several, but when placed together you would barely distinguish the separation. I besides sent you several small fragments... I have written a letter full of explanations regarding each morsel, for they are separately packed, and to what it belongs. This you will receive from the captain of the ship who takes them home. Of course, I cannot tell you his name yet, I do not expect they will reach Bombay before the middle of next month, where they will be in charge of my agent who will forward them on the first opportunity. And now let me congratulate you upon a most excellent gallery of Persepolitan antiquities of inestimable value, from which I venture to foretell that the hall of Argyll house is about to become the admiration of London: I look forward to the day when I shall see it so richly adorned. Let me obtain your promise not to part with any of them before that day, indeed the expense I have been at in procuring them has been so trifling that I do not come upon you for payment, but give all from myself, and as my present I intreat you to agree with my request concerning them. I am blamed by Sir Gore and the whole party for glutting the market in England, and have promised them I would make this bargin with you.

Gordon goes on to record his impressions of Persepolis, remarking in passing that there are seventeen columns still standing, but his observations do not make any contribution to our knowledge of the site.15 More informative is a letter he had written to Lord Aberdeen from Persepolis on 16 July 1811 to accompany the antiquities that he was dispatching to his brother: With this letter will have arrivedmore Persepolitan You antiquities.16 had better send a Treasuryorder to have them unshipped as the duty will otherwise come high. Those that I have numbered have been procuredat this spot by my own labour... I do not knowwhat the freight maybe, perhapsnothing. My agent in Bombaywill howeverlet you know on that head. The pieces being sent included those referred to in the letter of 21st August as follows: No. 1. Two separatepieces composinghead & neck of a horse and a man by its side. No. 2. In all 9 pieces, some small-composing the upperpartof chariot,horses,and chariotteer. No. 3. Three smalland three largepieces composing of differentinscriptions the arrowheaded character. These all fit, and makeone slab. The letter concludes: "should there be a charge for freight you will of course have the goodness to defray it." It is clear, then, that both the British Museum relief showing the charioteer and the backs of the horses and the Miho Museum fragment were dug up at Persepolis by Robert Gordon in July 1811. It was realised straightaway that they joined together, and Morier made a drawing (referred to in Gordon's letter) which he reproduced in his book (Fig. 2; Morier 1818: fig. on p. 114). How the pieces then became separated again is not clear. It is implied in Gordon's letter of 21st August 1811 that he sent all the pieces to Lord Aberdeen, but it is not absolutely certain from the list drawn up on 16 July 1811 that the consignment included the fragment showing the horses' heads. In the absence of further information, all we can do is presume that at some stage, either in Persia itself or after the consignment had reached England, the piece with the horses heads was presented to Sir Gore Ouseley. In any case, what is certain is that by 1817 the two parts of the relief were no longer together, as in that year the larger part of the relief was presented to the British Museum. In fact, it is unlikely that the horses' heads were ever in Lord Aberdeen's collection, as in the second volume of Sir William Ouseley's Travelsthe relief withoutthe horses' heads is illustrated in a group of five sculptures from Persepolis that are said to be in the col-



lection of the Earl of Aberdeen (Fig. 3; Ouseley 1819-23: 11, pl. XLV). Even after 1817, though, it was still known that the reliefs fitted together. Amongst the drawings of the artist and traveller Sir Robert Ker Porter that are now preserved in the British Library and in the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg are representations of the complete relief (Fig. 4).17 Unlike most others that are now in the State Hermitage18 and in the British Library,19 is not reproduced in Ker Porter's it two-volume book of travels (Ker Porter 1821-2). Accompanying the drawing in the British Library (Add. Ms. 14,758, part 1, no. 95) is a note by Ker Porter saying: "This fragment formed part of the upper row of bas reliefs on the ornamented staircase at Persepolis . . . . It was brought to England some years since at two different periods-having been broken, probably at the time this beautiful range of sculpture fell to the ground; and in consequence of its separation, is at present not in one collection-Sir Gore Ouseley possesses the necks of the horses, and the British Museum the rest of what appears in the I sketched this mutilated work of art, drawing-... at the British Museum, and at Sir Gore's." It is notable that his representation is much more accurate than Morier's, which he reproduces at a small scale above his own drawing, and its survivalserves to demonstrate Ker Porter's considerable artistic skill and accuracy, as a comparison with the original readily shows. As we have said above, the relief in the British Museum was presented by the Earl of Aberdeen in 1817. The history of the Miho Museum fragment is more complicated. It seems that, together with other reliefs from Persepolis, it was originally in the possession of Sir Gore Ouseley. Some of these reliefs, but not necessarily the horses heads, were exhibited on the staircase of his house in Bruton Street, London (Ouseley 1819-23: 11, 255, pl. XLVI). Then, in 1825, some of these reliefs were presented to the British Museum while evidently two others, the horses heads and a fragment showing the head of a guardsman wearing a feather headdress, remained in the possession of the family. On the death of Sir Gore Ouseley in 1844 these two pieces were inherited by his son Sir Frederick Ouseley (1825-89), the composer and musicologist20 who founded St. Michael's College,
Tenbury, in 1856. St. Michael's College is a school near the border between England and Wales. Together with the important library of Sir Gore Ouseley the reliefs became the property of the College, and are specifically referred to in the official history of the school (Alderson and Colles 1943: 112). After St. Michael's College closed down in July of St. Michael's 1985, the Trustees College

(renamed the Ouseley Trust) sent the two Persepolis reliefs to the local auction rooms in the nearby town of Leominster. There, described only as Middle Eastern stone carvings, they were sold for extremely modest prices at the Russel, Baldwin and Bright sale of 2-3 May 1990 (lot nos. 871, 875). Some seven months later the two pieces were again put up for sale at auction, but this time at Sotheby's in London, and after the fragment with the horses heads had been fully identified in the British Museum. Not surprisingly, in the sale of 13-14 December 1990 (lot nos. 65-6) the pieces fetched a great deal more money than they had made at Leominster. The British Museum attempted to buy the relief at this time, but was unable to do so. In due course, on 28 July 1993, an application was made to the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art to export this piece from Britain, but it was taken into account that the piece had been in Britain for a long time and that it joined a relief in the British Museum. Therefore, a licence was deferred for nine months in order to give a British institution the chance to match the price for which it had now been sold. This proved to be impossible, and an export licence was issued on 30 April 1994. Thereafter the fragment was exported to Japan and is now in the Miho Museum. The British Museum was disappointed that it did not succeed in acquiring this piece, but an arrangement has now been reached with the Miho Museum. The British Museum relief was lent to the Miho Museum for the opening ceremony on 3 November 1997 and for a short period after that, so that the two pieces could be displayed together (P1. Va). After that, the newly joined relief will be shown in the gallery of Ancient Iran at the British Museum.
1997, (the SCatalogue theMihoMuseum SouthWing), of Shigaraki no. 32. 2 Fora sculptural of analysis these scenessee Roaf1983:40. 3 Forsurveys chariotsin the Achaemenidperiod see Littauer of and Crouwel1979:144-60;1997:20-21.

4 Sir Robert Gordon (1791-1847). See Dictionary of National vol. 22 (London 1890), pp. 228-9. A diplomat, he Biography was the fifth son of George Gordon, Lord Haddo. After Persia he served in the Hague, Vienna, the Brazils and

5 Sir Gore Ouseley, Bart. (1770-1844),

Dictionary of National

extraHe Constantinople. finished his career as ambassador to ordinary Vienna1841-6.

was envoy to the Court of Persia 1811-14. For details of his career in Persia, see Wright 1977: 12-15, 151-2, and for more general informationsee
Biography vol. 42 (London 1895),

pp. 361-2. 6 Sir William Ouseley (1767-1842) was a distinguished antiquary and orientalist who assembled a valuable collection of Persian manuscripts. He translated various works from Arabic and vol. Persian into English. See Dictionaryof National Biography 42 (London 1895), pp. 364-5. 7 James Justinian Morier (1782-1849), best known as the author



11 BM 118867. 12 The Miho Museum fragment.


of Hajji Baba of lspahan. See Dictionaryof National Biography vol. 39 (London 1894), pp. 51-2. 8 A daughter, Eliza Shirin, was born in Shiraz on 17 June 1811 and died nine months later in Tehran (Wright 1977: 14 and note). 9 There is an account of the visit to Persepolis in Sir Gore Ouseley's journal which is now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Dep. b. 250), but there is only a very general description of the ruins and no information about sculptures having been found at the site or removed. 10 Aberdeen Papers, Add. Ms. 43209. BM 118842. Barnett 1957: pl. XVI/4. The horse's head is now missing. same letter he describes Pasargadae and Isfahan.

Alderson, M. F., and Colles, H. C., 1943. History of St. Michael's London. Tenbury, College, Barnett, R. D., 1957. "Persepolis",IraqXIX, 55-77. Barnett, R. D., 1972. "Sir Robert Ker Porter-regency artist and traveller",Iran X, 19-24. Persia,Armenia, Ker Porter, Sir Robert, 1821-2. Travelsin Georgia, AncientBabylonia,etc.,2 vols., London. Littauer, M. A., and Crouwel, J. H., 1979. WheeledVehiclesand Ridden Animals in the Ancient Near East, Handbuch der Orientalistik, Leiden. Littauer, M. A., and Crouwel, J. H., 1997. "Chariots and early vol. I: The horse equipment", in Alexander, D. (ed.), Furusiyya Horsein theArt of theAncientNearEast, Riyadh, 16-21. Morier, J., 1818. A Second JourneythroughPersia,Armenia,and Asia Minor, to Constantinople, between the Years 1810 and 1816, London. Ouseley, Sir William, 1819-23. Travelsin Various Countriesof the Persia,3 vols., London. East; more particularly Iran XXI, Roaf, M. D., 1983. Sculpturesand Sculptorsat Persepolis, London. Roaf, M. D., 1987. "Checklist of Persepolis reliefs not at the site", Iran XXV, 155-8. OIP I: Schmidt, E. F., 1953. Persepolis Sculptures, Reliefs,Inscriptions, LXVIII, Chicago. Vasileva, N. E., 1994. "About the history of Sir Robert Ker Porter's album with his sketches of Achaemenid and Sasanian monuments", AMIXXVII, 339-48. Wright, D., 1977. TheEnglish amongstthe Persians during the Qajar Period1787-1921, London.

14 BM 118843. 15 Later in the

16 It is clear from a letter written at Shiraz on 7July 1811 that he

had already dispatched some pieces of Persepolis sculpture, partly bought in Shiraz. He sends them although "they are not very perfect" because "it is more than probable our short stay at Persepolis will prevent my procuring more". 17 A copy of this drawing was sent to Dr. R.D. Barnett in 1966 by Academician B.B. Piotrovskii, the then Director of the State Hermitage. 18 See Vasileva 1994. 19 See Barnett 1972. 20 See Dictionary of National Biographyvol. 42 (London 1895), Britannica, 14th edition 1929, pp. 359-60, and Encyclopaedia vol. 16, p. 971.