Persian art and architecture: The Achaemenid Period

A unified style emerges in the Achaemenid period (c.550–330 BC). Influenced by the Greeks, the Egyptians, and those from other provinces of the Persian Empire, the Achaemenids evolved a monumental style in which relief sculpture is used as an adjunct to massive architectural complexes. Foundations of the palace of Cyrus at Pasargadae, of Artaxerxes I at Susa, and above all extensive remains of the magnificent palace complex of Darius I and Xerxes I at Persepolis reveal plans that characteristically show great columned audience halls. In front of the halls were colonnaded porticoes, flanked by square towers and set on high terraces. The palaces were approached by double flights of steps converging at the top. Although there are marked analogies to Egyptian, Greek, and Assyrian architecture, the style as a whole and the feeling for space and scale are distinctive. The Persepolitan columns are slenderer and more closely fluted than those of Greece. Bases are high, often bell-shaped; capitals are composed of the foreparts of two bulls set back to back or of other animals above volutes with rosette ornament.

In the sculpture, of an ordered clarity and simplicity, heraldic stylization is subtly combined with effects of realism. Typical are the low stone reliefs of a procession of tribute bearers that adorn the great double staircase approaching the audience hall of Xerxes I (Persepolis) and the famous Frieze of Archers (Louvre, from the palace of Darius I at Susa), executed in molded and enameled brick, a technique of Babylonian-Assyrian origin. The great care lavished on every stone detail is also found in the fine gold and silver rhytons (drinking horns), bowls, jewelry, and other objects produced by this culture.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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