Iranian artworks take visitors on hunt for birds of prey at U.S. show

March 11, 2022 - 21:0

TEHRAN – The key role birds of prey played in the arts and culture of Iran and some other nations takes the center stage at a new exhibition held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art in Washington D.C.

“Falcons: The Art of the Hunt” showcases objects as old as an Egyptian limestone plaque depicting a falcon that dates from 664-525 BC, to an early 18th-century Indian watercolor of a mounted hunter keeping an eye on a bird at the moment of an attack, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. reported.

Moreover, the exhibition features a Ming dynasty hanging scroll from the late 15th century of a hawk pursuing water birds, and from Iran, a drawing from the 1640s of two horsemen hunting with their birds.

Massumeh Farhad, the museum's chief curator and a scholar of Islamic art, says the collection was originally organized in 2020 before the COVID pandemic to complement the outdoor showcase by the Smithsonian Folklife Festival that would spotlight the United Arab Emirates, where falconry is especially cherished and has evolved to an innovative practice of conservation.

Falconry—the sport of training the bird to capture prey and return it to human trainers—may date to 2,000 BC. Scholars disagree where falconry first originated; some argue the practice began in ancient Mesopotamia, others say ancient Iran.

The history of falconry has uncertain origins. “Whether it started in Iran, or whether it started further west in the Arab world. Most scholars believe that by the 8th century, at the very beginning of Islam we have evidence of falconry becoming part of courtly and royal traditions,” Farhad says. “That’s where we are in firm ground.”

Iranian artworks take visitors on hunt for birds of prey at U.S. show

A falcon as a rejected gift is one of the many scenes in a colorful and highly populated Iranian manuscript folio from 1556 to1565. Even harder to discern at first are a group of hunters and birds tucked in the corner of the Indian watercolor Maharaja Macho Singh Marches to the Hunt, circa 1775.

“Falcons: The Art of the Hunt” continues at the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art through July 17, 2022.


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