SASSANID INFLUENCES ON COPTIC ART

In addition to the traditional influences mentioned as contributing to the formation of Coptic art—Hellenistic, ancient Egyptian, Roman, and —some more influences must be explored. Indeed, it has been argued that the art of India, and even Central Asia, bore some relationship with Coptic art (Zaloscer, 1947).

A no less important source for Coptic art was the Sassanid art that influenced practically all medieval civilizations as illustrated in the respective arts of the Middle Ages. In the case of Coptic art, the natural flux of artistic influences encountered in other areas is here even more concrete, probably due to the fact that, in the first half of the seventh century, was conquered by Khosrow II (590-628) and was under direct Sassanid influence.

Through Sassanid art, Coptic art incorporated two layers of influence; the first was the ancient artistic legacy that Sassanid art had already adopted, and the second was the peculiar to Sassanid art itself.

Examples of the first influence include the traditional of “the Woman at the Window,” as seen on a fragment of from Antinoë (ANTINOOPOLIS), and the repeated eads, or masks, reproduced on Antinoë textiles as well as on a Saqqara fresco. Examples in Coptic art of typical Sassanids include roundels with rams or winged horses on various textiles, accompanied by the traditional details of beaded frames, flying ribbons, or pairs of birds facing each other. All these can be seen on textiles found in Egypt.

The culmination of the Sassanid influence may be found on the famous Khosrow textile, found at Antinoë, and preserved in the Museum of Lyons. The piece represents a seated personality, suggested to be Khosrow, against a background scene of fighting cavaliers and archers. A very similar interpretation of the majestic personality can be seen on a Coptic plaque of ivory, at the Art Gallery, Baltimore.

  • Ghirshman, R. Persian Art: The Parthian and Sasanian Dynasties, 249 B.C.-651 A.D. New York, 1964.
  • Shepherd, D. G. Iran: Between East and West, pp. 84-105. Offprint of East-West in Art. Bloomington, Ind., 1966.
  • Zaloscer, H. Quelques considérations sur les rapports entre l’art copte et les Indes. Cairo, 1947.

MYRIAM ROSEN-AYALON