The Hermitage boasts the world’s largest collection of Sassanian silver. The majority of the Sassanian silverware- jugs and cups for wine, vases and salvers for sweetmeats and fruit -were found by chance in the Urals region and near the river Kama, a tributary of the Volga, to where they had been taken by traders in return for furs.

Rooms 383-391 and 394. Persia, 3rd-18th centuries.  Thus’ for example, among the highlights of the Hermitage collection is a dish depicting King Shapur II hunting, found in 1927 in the region of Kirov. Sassanian utensils were generally decorated with relief representations of royal hunting scenes, magnificent feasts, dances, and with the characters from ancient Persian mythology. An example of this is the famous dish upon which is represented a well-known episode from Firdousi’s poem Shahnameh describing how Azadeh, the beloved of Prince Bahram-Gur, demanded upon seeing a herd of gazelles that with the help of arrows the prince turn a buck into a dee and a dee into a buck. With a special crescent-headed arrow the prince shot off a buck’s antlers, thus turning him in’o a dee; then he shot at a doe, planting two arrows in the place where antlers grow, thus turning her into a buck. In the hunting scenes the faces, costumes and head-dresses of the Persian kings are reproduced with absolute accuracy, and this makes it possible to establish their names. The amazing ability to make the decorative compositions harmonize with the actual shape of the object, the clarity of design and the exquisite execution of detail account for the noble beauty of the Sassanian articles.

Bronze vessel in the form of an eagle. Persia, 8th-9ih century Faience bottle. Persia, 17th century

Also displayed in this room is a very large collection of Persian carved stones and coins.

Room 384. In Persia the manufacture of bronze goods was widely developed. Varied in their shapes and their functions, they were produced by casting and chasing, and subsequently inlaid with red copper and silver. Excellent pieces of this sort of work are a twelfth century censer in the form of a cat, an aquamanile (1205) representing a female zebu with a calf, and two twelfth century bronze pots made by craftsmen from the town of Gerat.

Rooms 385-387. Persian ceramics, 12th-15th centuries. In the East lustre ware from the northern Persian towns of Kashan and Rayy was very highly esteemed, and there are in the exhibition examples of the work produced in these towns – glazed tiles for facing secular and devotional buildings. These include tiles dating from the thirteenth century which decorated the Iman-zade Yakhyya mausoleum in the town of Veramin, and a lustre mihrab, a prayer-niche facing Mecca in the wall of a mosque or mausoleum, from Kashan (1305). The most splendid item made by the Kashan craftsmen is a large lustre vase of the thirteenth century with the figures, in relief, of musicians, animals and scenes from a game of polo (room 387).

In rooms 391-394 there is a very rich collection of objects produced by craftsmen of the sixteenth to eighteenth century; among these are velvet and silk fabrics embroidered with gold and silver, carpets, copper and bronze utensils, in many cases with the texts of poems by famous Persian poets, ceramics from the towns of Kashan, Isfahan, Kerman and Yezd, damask sabres and daggers adorned with gold inlay, lacquers and articles made of coloured glass.

The items displayed in room 394 reflect the extensive trade connections which Persia maintained with Russia and many European nations. In room 392 are some miniatures of the Tabriz, Shiraz and Isfahan schools; these are also some originals of the well-known seventeenth century Persian artist Reza-i-Abbasi.

Room 388. Syria and Iraq, 13th-15th centuries. Syria was famous for its glassware with coloured enamel patterns, exported to many distant places, and of interest in this respect is a thirteenth century glass vessel in the form of a horn bearing Arabic inscriptions and the representations of Christian saints. The sixteenth century German-made silver mount was produced, as the inscription says, upon the order of a knight of the Livonian Order, Bruno Drollshagen. Enjoying wide renown were the bronze utensils produced by Syrian and Iraqi craftsmen who, by skilfully combining in their ornamentation engraving, niello and inlay work, could turn simple articles of everyday use into splendid works of art (see, for example, the basins, dishes, candlesticks, etc.).

Rooms 389 and 390. Egypt, 7th-15th centuries. This exhibition provides an introduction to the craft work of Mohommedan Egypt. Notice especially a large collection of seventh to twelfth century fabrics, two magnificent vessels made of rock crystal, some bronzes, glassware and ceramics. The fourteenth century glass lamps (room 390) painted with coloured enamels, and with the heraldic emblems and the names of the rulers of the Mameluke dynasty, remind us of Syrian glassware. It is known that after the conquest of the country by the Mamelukes, Syrian glass-blowers were taken to Egypt. Some details of thirteenth to fifteenth century architectural ornamentation are very striking – carved wooden panels for interior decorationj inlaid with ivory and valuable kinds of wood, and bearing a typical geometric design.

Lamp made of rock crystal. Egypt, 10th century

Rooms 395-397. Turkey, 15th-18th centuries. As a result of conquests the Ottoman Sultanate became, in the fifteenth century, one of the world’s most powerful states. In the centre of one of the rooms is exhibited a remarkable suit of armour belonging to a Turkish cavalry soldier of the fifteenth century. In cabinet 2 is the headdress of a Janissary, the Janissaries constituting a special corps of the Turkish regular army in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The collection of Turkish applied art is exceptionally rich. Rooms 395 and 396 contain sixteenth and seventeenth century ceramics from the towns of Iznik in Asia Minor and Damascus in Syria, prominent centres of the ceramic industry. Eighteenth and early nineteenth century ceramics from the town of Kutahya are displayed in room 397. The towns of Bursa, Damascus and Scutari were renowned for their brocade, velvets and silk fabrics (see rooms 395-397). Carpets were manufactured everywhere, in Kula, Bergama, Ladip and Qhiordes; the finest of the carpets in the Hermitage was made in the town of Usak (room 396, frame 15). The favourite decorative motif, adorning ceramics, fabrics and carpets alike, is the representation of flowers – carnations, tulips, hyacinths, wild roses – and of pomegranates. In rooms 396 and 397 there is an enormous collection of richly ornamented weapons made by craftsmen in Istanbul, Trebizond and Erzurum.

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3 May 2007