Sassanian Elliptical Silver Gilt Bowl with a Vine Scroll, 6th-7th century B.C.E. Silver gilt, W. 13.3 cm. © Miho Museum
The elliptical bowl is one of two standard forms of drinking vessel. In Middle Persian the shape was known as a "boat vessel"--a term inscribed on one example of the type.1 while variations of the elliptical bowl form from the third millennium B.C. are known in the Near East, the Sasanian silver vessel, without a foot and with a somewhat crescentic profile, is a distinctive shape of the sixth and the seventh centuries A.D. Two examples of silver elliptical bowls have come from archaeological excavations at Susa and at Qasr-i Abu Nasr in southern Iran.
The decoration on the exterior of the Shumei bowl is characteristically Sasanian. Grapevines and ornamental scrolls cover the surface. In the field in between the tendrils are four creatures: a pheasant, a fox, a jackal, and a saluki, or hunting dog. A small guinea fowl appears in a central medallion. References to animals of the hunt and game park as well as to grapevines are appropriate on a luxury vessel undoubtedly used at court banquets and festivities. The design is in relief, the background having been carved away and covered with gilding. Beneath the rim is a band of beading and a half-palmette pattern.
The floral and figural motifs are laid out in an ordered, nearly symmetrical fashion that is typical of Sasanian decorative arts. There are minor variations in the fantastic foliage--specifically, in the appearance of the pairs of cone-shaped elements.
1. See Gignoux 1984, no. 39; Harper 1988, pp. 331-45.