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The Shapur Plate: From Sasanian Iran to the Freer Gallery of Art


Creating the Shapur Plate

The simplest silver plates from the Sasanian period were made with two pieces of silver that formed the body and the foot. In contrast, the Shapur plate consists of nineteen separate parts, an accomplishment that elevates it to the highest level of Sasanian craftsmanship. The plate was first hammered into shape and designs were then added by chasing, punching, and repoussé work. The lost piece of the boar's haunch reveals how the pieces were added to the surface. Gold was applied through fire gilding, a process in which gold is mixed with mercury and then heated. The mercury burns away, leaving behind a thin layer of sparkling gold. At times, the gold spreads beyond the outline of a design, a characteristic of fire gilding. 

The circular marks defining the king's hair and beard illustrate the metalwork technique of punching. A patterned tool was hammered into the silver to produce the decoration.

Detail, Shapur Plate
Iran, Sasanian period, 4th century CE
Silver and gilt
Purchase
Freer Gallery of Art F1934.23

Areas of low relief, such as the boar's body, were usually created through chasing. The metal was hammered from the front to create the design.

Detail, Shapur Plate
Iran, Sasanian period, 4th century CE
Silver and gilt
Purchase
Freer Gallery of Art F1934.23

Diagram of Shapur Plate

Nineteen separate pieces of metal were put together to form the Shapur plate.

Radiograph

The lighter areas of this x-ray image show where higher-density silver was used. This helps in understanding how the plate was made.

Radiograph (detail)

This close-up view of the king's head reveals the intricate details of the silverwork.

Far simpler in construction than the Shapur plate, this object is decorated with incised lines and spot gilding. Is it an unfinished piece, or is it an example of a lesser-quality plate produced in a regional workshop?

Plate
Iran, Sasanian period, 7th century CE
Silver and gold
Gift of Arthur M. Sackler
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery S1987.109

This small torso was originally intended for a silver vessel that is now lost.

Torso
Iran, Sasanian period, 3rd–7th century CE
Gold and silver
Gift of anonymous donor
FSC-M-80