Two sparring horsemen, galloping toward one another, are all that remain from what was once an extended frieze. Perhaps formerly on the exterior of a building, this stucco sculpture was hardy enough to brave the elements—the only loss is the once-bright polychrome that would have covered the surface. In his 1945 book Masterpieces of Persian Art, author Arthur Upham Pope introduced readers to the selected 155 works that he considered the greatest achievements of more than 5,000 years of artistic production in today’s Iran. Of just three stucco works he included, this was the only sculpture Pope called “a genuine masterpiece of ornamentation.”

Relief with two fighting horsemen, inscription, and star medallion, 12th–13th century, Persian (modern Iran), stucco, 43 1/8 x 19 3/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 54.29. On view starting next Wednesday, 7 December, Ancient Mediterranean and Islamic art gallery, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

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