The Cosmic Cup in Medieval and Later Persian Art
Of the many, ubiquitous emblems of royal power, privilege and pleasure represented in Persian and Persianate art through the ages, the one that seems to have survived in the greatest numbers and in the most varied physical and material form is the drinking vessel, specifically for wine. This lecture will first explore the cultural background for this artistic production within the venerable tradition of the jam-e Jamshid, a magical cup associated first and foremost with king Jamshid of Iran’s mythical, founding dynasty, that appears as a regular topos in countless works by medieval Persian poets and other writers. Then it will consider the visual symbolism and iconographic charge of wine cups, bowls and ewers dating primarily from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and argue that certain specific examples were conceived and used as both three-dimensional and pictorial realizations of the venerable jam. Persian manuscript illustrations of the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries – so post-medieval or later works of art – also will be featured here, with the further aim of connecting the wine cup theme and its cultural significance to specific literary narratives, the great versified Shahnama, or Book of Kings, long heralded as Iran’s national epic.
Marianna Shreve Simpson, president of the Historians of Islamic Art Association, was curator of Islamic Near Eastern art at the Freer/Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution and more recently the director of curatorial affairs and curator of Islamic art at the Walters Art Museum. She specializes in the arts of the Islamic book in general and illustrated Persian manuscripts in particular; and she has published, lectured and taught widely in these fields.