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Luristan bronzes have been prized for their unique designs and fine craftsmanship since antiquity. Geographically, Luristan is the central province in Iran’s western frontier, the area where production of richly decorated bronzes flourished from about 1200 to 800 B.C.
The formidable terrain of the region, sweeping plains, and high valleys intersected by the Zagros Mountains, encouraged the development of small, separated communities in ancient times. The economy of these communities was dependent upon horse breeding, some agriculture, and control of the north-south trade routes. By about 2500 B.C. these tribes lived in semi-permanent settlements, which became the early bronze working centers.
The Luristan smiths became masters of casting by the ‘cireperdue’ or ‘lost wax’ method. This technique required the modeling of an object in wax, often over a clay core for stability, and then coating the wax with clay. The subsequent firing of the piece hardened the clay, and melted the wax which ran out through prepared vents. The resulting mold was then filled with molten metal and left to cool. When the mold was broken away, the bronze piece was smoothes and finished as necessary. The versatility of this method encouraged innovative design, and allowed for the production of a variety of bronze tools, implements, decorations and figures.
The tribes of western Persian were outstanding horsemen and warriors, and decorative horse bits, harness fittings, and rein rings were among their most interesting equipment.
Ingenious zoomorphic shapes appear on much of the Luristan bronze work. Fantastic animals with elongated bodies form handles and spouts of a variety of vessels. The same animal forms appear as cult symbols on ceremonial pins and finials. The “Master of Animals” design, often used on pins and finials is one of the most popular but baffling motifs. A humanoid figure is flanked by a pair of mythical and rearing beasts, which in some instances he appears to be subduing. The human figure has been equated with Gilgamesh and with the Mesopotamian “heroes”. The origin of the whole motif is, however, maybe archaic, and evolved from an early stage in the religion.
The primary function of any metal industry in antiquity was the production of weapons and tools. This, too, was an area in which the Luristan smiths excelled. Their mastery of weapons included a wide variety of swords, daggers and spear points, as well as arrowheads, mace heads, and ax heads.
Bronze blades were relatively soft and required frequent re-sharpening, thus the whetstone became an important piece of equipment.
The first bronze blades were cast with a short tang, which was riveted to a simple wooden handle. Very fine dagger blades were occasionally fitted with a separately cast bronze of copper hilt, that was then riveted to the tang. Some of these blades have been found with cuneiform inscriptions from the Royal Houses of Babylon and Elam.
Even after the blade and hilt were cast as one piece (about 1200 B.C.) this style was copied and the rivets were cast as a design motif. Eventually, blades were cast with a flanged hilt. This allowed for a decorative inlay in the handle of bone, ivory or wood.
The Luristan bronze industry died out after 800 B.C. when the tribal aristocracy lost its power to the invading Medes, and the smiths lost their wealthy patrons.
Many fine examples of Luristan bronze work are, however, available to collectors today from miniature ceremonial animals to horse gear and swords and daggers.
Article written by Pat Remler in association with Sadigh Gallery Ancient Art, Inc.
For more information about Luristan or any other ancient artifacts please visit www.sadighgallery.com