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Two royal figures (Saljuq Period)

A conversation between Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis and Dr. Steven Zucker in front of "Two Royal Figures," Iran (Saljuq period), mid 11th - mid 12th c., painted and gilded stucco (Metropolitan Museum of Art).  Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Quinn McLeish
    Does anyone know what stucco is made of?
    (7 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Stuart W
    I noticed that the winged crown at is a unique variant of the winged crown that contains an eagles beak. The eagles beak really popped out because the eagle is a symbol of war in arabic/islamic culture, and many others at that (and I must admit, that I recognize the eagles beak from the video game franchise Assassin's Creed). But below the eagles beak is a flower. The word for flower is "zahra" which is also a title given to the prophet Muhammad's daughter.
    An object such as a crown can be very telling about who a person was. This was obviously an individual that either described themself (or was being described) as a warrior and leader possibly: for all that is good in life (the flower). If I had to guess, I would say the led a militant order and this was venerating them (hence why it is so stylized - even thought that can be attributed to the period of art) - perhaps someone like Hassan-i Sabbah who in fact did come from Northern Persia or Iran.

    Anyone want to conjecture what these symbols mean?
    (8 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Pete Harvey
    At , do we know what the symbols on the sleaves are? If they are royal figures, could the symbols be names?
    (4 votes)
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    • purple pi purple style avatar for user Ant.Stryk
      That's what they call a tiraz band. A tiraz band is a line of inscription on the upper sleeves of a robe or on a turban sash. They are often of religious content such as prayers. The loose translation for the left arm is "worshiper for the believers" and the right arm translates to "he returns/belongs to the believers". This website has some great articles about clothing from this era. http://awalimofstormhold.wordpress.com/tag/garb/ . The British Museum also has a number of textile artifacts from this time period.
      (5 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user John
    So, to be clear, these figurative works were accepable in Islam because they were either secular or for private use, right?
    (2 votes)
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    • marcimus pink style avatar for user Feath Zaman
      As they mentioned, you would never find figures of humans in a mosque, which is super strict in acceptable decoration. Then, as now, in a Muslims home, you may find things a little more relaxed. Pictures of the kids on the wall, TVs, ect have found their way into modern Muslims homes. Before those, it would seem by this lesson, the equivalent is true, and we see home decoration with plaster figurines.
      (3 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user 福龍丸
    Is the term "Saljuq" an alternative to "Seljuk"? I'm more familiar with the latter, which is a Turkic tribe, famous for defeating the Byzantines at Manzikert in 1071.
    (1 vote)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Asif Hussain
    I am muslim.I wanted to know my culture's art.
    (1 vote)
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    • spunky sam blue style avatar for user Renatof
      As the "Western" culture is very varied, so the Islamic culture (or Muslim) is very varied. Europeans are usually limited to the near Islamic culture of the Mediterranean. But the islamic religion have different center: Mughal Empire in India, Malaysia and Indonesia, Iran (Persia), Turkey, Central Asia and in Africa: Morocco, Mali, Timbuktu, Dakar, Zanzibar.
      I am convinced that it will come with more time, but Islamic art and culture is very wide.
      (3 votes)
  • primosaur ultimate style avatar for user Noodlebasher
    I have seen that dog thing at before does anyone know what it is?
    (1 vote)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Steven.A
    Yea i dont get that how do they came from the desert
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Amina Lunat
    Two questions: Quite often it seems that human figures in Islamic art seem to have a distinctively far-eastern look (to me, anyway). The video mentioned the Turkic moon face, but to me they seem to have very distinctly almond-shaped eyes of China and Japan and other far-eastern countries, not just in these statues but also the figures in the manuscript they showed (). Why is this?

    Also, I understand that blues would be expensive for Western artists, but it could hardly be comparable to the relative ease of transporting lapis lazuli from Afghanistan to Iran or any other country in the Islamic empires. So why is blue still a symbol of wealth and expense?

    (1 vote)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Amy
    why are the figures still in good condition?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

(lighthearted music) Woman: These are just perhaps my favorite figures in the entire Metropolitan Museum of Arts' Islamic Collection. Man: I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like these. Woman: No, well, there really isn't anything else in the world like them. They are two exceptional pieces carved and molded sculptural figures made out of stucco. They are extraordinary. Man: Stucco. It's this soft, cement-like material, it's not stone, and so it's pretty easy to carve. Woman: Oh, it's fantastic to carve. You can mold it and then carve it. The wonderful thing is it's light, it's easy to affix to walls. Man: Even though it's pretty soft stuff, it survived beautifully. These are in great condition. Woman: They really are; probably one of the reasons why they're in such good condition is they were from the desert. I love them because they are so alive. They are so dynamic, beautiful, bright, gorgeous, and they also throw one of the great misconceptions about Islamic art out the window, which is that Islamic art is aniconic. Man: Right. I had been taught that in Islamic culture, just like in Judeo culture, you don't represent the human body, you don't represent animals. Woman: That's true in a lot of cases, but that conception comes from one of the [hadeeds] that says you basically shouldn't be making graven images, not too different from the prohibitions in the Old Testament; but, what seems to happen is very early on in Islamic art, that prohibition seems to be upheld in mosques, in religious spaces, but in the secular world, all bets are off. Man: This is a complex culture with subtle distinctions, and so making these kinds of broad generalizations really doesn't make sense. Woman: That's exactly right. We have figurative works in stucco. We have it on ceramics, on vases, and metal work. We have it in manuscript. We have it in painting. It's not like these are just one-offs, actually it's part of a much larger tradition, but these are just exceptional examples of it. Man: It's really all about context; so what do we think the context for these figures was? Woman: That is one of the big questions. We don't know what the context is, but what we think is that they were probably in some type of reception hall and that they were affixed to the walls; so that when you were coming in to see a strong man or a new ruler, because these were produced around 1200, somewhere in Iran, which was a very unstable period, that these and perhaps others would greet you. Because we have other examples of painted reception rooms where we have guards or royal figures standing. We have examples in Bast in Afghanistan, and in Samarakan, as well, in Uzbekistan. Man: They're clearly representations of power. Both of them are clutching swords. They're armed and dangerous, but even a clear expression of their power, I think, comes from their dress. Woman: Certainly, because, yes, we have the swords, we have this royal napkin that one of the figures is holding, but the dress is really impressive. This would have been blues, reds, black, and they would have been gilded as well. You have to imagine gold; they are bejeweled. They have earrings, they have necklaces. Man: I'm a little confused because you would think that these would be guards, but these are also royal figures. Woman: That is the big question that we have. Are these princes? Kings of kings? Shahs of shahs? Or are they royal guards? They are wearing crowns. One of the figures here is wearing the winged crown. The winged crown in Iran is probably the oldest symbol of authority. It was worn by the Sasanian kings. Man: This is a pre-Islamic empire. Woman: Yes, it was very, very powerful. To take this symbol of authority is really an amazing thing to do, because it is a symbol that is recognizable to almost anyone who walks into the room. Man: The figures themselves feel so eastern, not only in the complexity of their costume, but also in their faces; they have these beautiful, round faces. Woman: They have what's called the Turkic moon face. You can see that that's really under the influence of central Asia and the East. Man: We're looking at these two figures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, thousands of miles away from their original home. Do we have any sense of how they got here? Woman: One turns up in the 1950s, and one in the 1960s. That is amazing because that means they didn't get here together. One would assume that they would have because they are clearly the same size, they are decorated in the same way, they are painted in the same way; these two came from the same context. Man: Almost 1,000 years later. Woman: They've been reunited, and still stand as this wonderful presence. Man: You had mentioned the polychromic; those blues and reds are so vivid. Woman: We have to remember that electric lights didn't exist for most of human history; and if you wnat to make an impression you need vibrancy, you need color, because otherwise, how are things going to stand out? You may have natural light coming in, but natural light and candle light are the only ways these things are illuminated. Man: Color itself could also be an expression of wealth, of power. Woman: Certainly, because obviously, gilding something with gold is expensive. Also, where are your blues coming from? If you're grinding up lapis lazuli, that's from Afghanistan, you have to trade for that; you have to import that. The different types of materials that are used are very important, and another symbol of wealth. Not only is it the stucco, the crowns, the swords, but it's also even the materials. Man: I think these are now some of my favorite figures as well. (lighthearted music)