Silver, mercury gilding; H. (a) 13.4 in. (34 cm)
Purchase, Mr. & Mrs. Douglas Dillon Gift and Rogers Fund, 1967 (67.10a,b)
Late Sasanian silver vessels, particularly bottles and ewers, often were decorated with female figures holding a variety of festal objects. The appearance of these motifs attests to the continuing influence of Greek imagery associated with the wine god Dionysus. On this silver-gilt vessel, floral arches, supported by low pilasters, frame four dancing female figures. Each holds a ceremonial object in either hand: grape and leaf branches, a vessel, a heart-shaped flower. Beneath one arcade, birds peck at fruit, and beneath another a tiny panther drinks from a ewer. Both the females and their decorative motifs recall representations of the maenads, attendants of Dionysus. However, it has been suggested that these figures have been adapted to the cult of the Iranian goddess Anahita. No texts survive to explain the appearance or function of these female figures, but it seems likely that vessels decorated with motifs such as these would have been intended to hold wine for court celebrations or religious festivals.