Sassanian and Islamic-Persian silver dishes of this form on short foot ring decorated with moulded and gilt figural decoration are among the most exquisite works of art produced in Persia.
The technique of manufacture remains the same from the Sassanian period through the Arab conquest. The dish is worked from heavy sheet silver with inserted panels so that the decoration stands out in strong relief. Pieces from the Islamic period are distinguished by a greater strength and solidity of design together with a more iconic representation typical of the art of the period.
The maker of the present dish was working within the Sassanian tradition, but strongly influenced by the new Arabic Islamic culture. The central depiction shows a scene which is famous from Achaemenid carvings at Persepolis, where the king demonstrates his strength by fighting a lion (Arthur Upham Pope,A Survey of Persian Art, Oxford, 1938, pl.95). A version of the same scene is depicted on another silver dish, although smaller than here and not in such high relief (Ann C. Gunter and Paul Jett, Ancient Iranian Metalwork in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992, no.29, p.177). The note to that piece mentions a vase in the Hermitage Museum with the same depiction.
However,the interesting difference in this piece is that the King figure has strongly Arab features. Stucco heads with the same type of fringed hairstyle are to be found above the entrance of the eighth century palace of Khirbat al-Mafjar, near Jerico. (O. Grabar, The formation of Islamic Art, fig. 85-86b). Another stucco figure of a man with curly hair and a beard was found at the Syrian palace of Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi (Ebla to Damascus, Art and archaeology of Ancient Syria, exhibition catalogue, Washington, 1985, no. 253).
The present dish relates to a small number of other parcel-gilt silver dishes which depict human figures, most of which show bacchanalian scenes (O.M. Dalton, The Treasure of the Oxus, London, 1964, no.211, pl.XXXIX; Esin Atil (et al), Islamic Metalwork in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985, pl.24, p.63; Vladimir Loukonine and Anatoli Ivanov, L'Art Persan, Bournemouth and St.Petersburg, 1995, no.68, p.98; and The Parish Watson Collection of Mohammedan Potteries, New York (?), 1922 (?), fig.1, p.v; also (poorer photo) Olge Grabar, The Formation of Islamic Art, New Haven and London, 1973, pl.98). All share the same level of relief, with various techniques of pouncing used to create texture on the raised surfaces. All tend towards the same frozen iconic pose although some of them have amusing small quirks in the foreground which indicate more levity. The combination of the groups of dots, usually three at a time forming a çintamani motif, with short curved lines seen decorating the garment of the protagonist can be found on another dish with more lively scenes arranged in an arcade around a portrait roundel (Gunter and Jett, op. cit, no.25, pp.161-165).
The palmettes around the side of the dish are directly taken from earlier pieces, but again are drawn in a static way in contrast to how they appear at the end of scrolling tendrils on a ewer of the 5th-6th century (Loukonine and Ivanov, op. cit., no.69, pp.98-100). The drawing on these leaves is similarly simplified when they are compared to the earlier original. The figural scene follows the same fashion. The central figure is depicted in a rigid stance as if posing for the artist, the lion already deprived of its strength.