Sassanian Silver Gilt Ewer with a Foliate Design, 6th-7th century C.E. Silver gilt, H. 35.9 cm. © Miho Museum
Most Sasanian silver ewers are decorated with figural designs rather than with overall plant motifs of the type that cover the body of this impressive late Sasanian work.1 Only on Islamic ewers and vases of the eighth and ninth centuries is such a uniform ornamental scheme commonly found. An Islamic bronze ewer from Dagestan in the Caucasus region--and now in The Hermitage, Saint Petersburg--is decorated with a stylized plant motif that is somewhat similar to the floral pattern on the present ewer.2
The Shumei example is the standard Sasanian form of ewer, differing in shape and proportions from early Islamic vessels. The decoratively articulated band around the neck and the animal heads serving as the terminals of the handle are features that are paralleled on Sasanian ewers in other museum collections. Less realistic than the animals--probably asses--are the flowers enclosed within the undulating lines. This curvilinear pattern is reminiscent of the decoration on a ewer depicted on the Sasanian rock relief of Khosro II (r. A.D. 591-628) at Taq-i Bostan.3 There, the goddess Nahid (Anahita) holds a ewer from which liquid--presumably her life-giving waters--pours. The body of the ewer is simply covered with sinuous lines in reference perhaps to the sweet waters flowing from the vessel.
The regularity of the decoration on the Shumei ewer, beautifully highlighted against a gilded background, resembles the patterns on precious silks. By the late sixth and the seventh century in Byzantium, as well as in late Sasanian Iran, these textiles had considerable influence on works in other mediums.
On many different levels--size, material, decoration, and imagery--this impressive silver-gilt vessel is exceptional and strikingly illustrates the luxury and prosperity of the late Sasanian world.