Plate featuring the mythical simurgh
Sassanian, about 7th century CE
Silver and gold
Diameter: 7.6 cm
Acquisition number: #ANE 124095
Gift of the National Art Collections Fund
Image courtesy of the British Museum (copyright reserved)
Zal Riding the Simurgh
Late 15th - 16th century CE
Gouache on paper
23.4 x 15.5 cm
Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection
Acquisition number: #47.95
Image courtesy of the Seattle Art Museum (copyright reserved)
As described in the section dedicated to the Sassanian culture, the creature known as a simurgh (alternatively senmurw) is not only an important component in Persian and Zoroastrian fables, it is also an important design motif. It commonly appears on Sassanian metalwork, such as this plate, as well as in textiles, architectural tile work and other locations.
At the time of the Sassanian dynasty, the Simurgh was pictured as a creature with the head of a dog, forefeet of a lion, and body and wings of a dragon, as we see in the plate depicted above. However, as the centuries progressed and mercantile exchange between Persia and China became commonplace, the aesthetics of both these cultures heavily influenced each other. As we see in this Persian illustrated manuscript dating to the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, the griffin-like image of the Simurgh had been replaced with that of the huang, a mythical Chinese bird known in English as the phoenix (see detailed view of phoenix). The image of this creature probably first arrived in the Persian in silk textile and brocades designs, and along with the Chinese dragon, was absorbed into the design vocabulary of Middle Eastern weavers, metal workers, ceramicists and painters.