During antiquity, vessels of precious metal were used in ritual ceremonies and as symbols of status for members of the ruling elite. From the western Caucasus to eastern Afghanistan, several hoards of these vessels in gold and silver have been found and recorded. Such a cup is this one, made of a natural alloy of gold and silver known as electrum. Resting on its narrow base, the body of the vessel curves gently inward before flaring out again to a wide mouth. The vessel is decorated at the rim with eight birds of prey incised with patterned lines. They are placed at equal intervals, with wings outspread and heads projecting above the rim of the cup. Each bird is attached with three round-headed rivets. Since the placement of the birds makes it awkward to drink from the cup, it is probable that the vessel was intended for some kind of ceremonial libation. The bird of prey is prominent in the iconography of western Central Asia, and in this particular posture—viewed as if from below—it had an extremely long life in the art of Iran.
From 1983, on loan by Norbert Schimmel to the Museum (L.1983.119.19); acquired by the Museum in 1989, gift of Norbert Schimmel Trust.
“Ancient Art: Gifts from the Norbert Schimmel Collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, June 4, 1991–September 15, 1991.
Pittman, Holly. 1984. Art of the Bronze Age: Southeastern Iran, Western Central Asia, and the Indus Valley. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 64, pp. 68-69, fig. 31.
Muscarella, Oscar W. 1992. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 49 (4), Ancient Art: Gifts from the Norbert Schimmel Collection (Spring 1992), no. 29, p. 56.