“Was Achaemenid Art an ‘International Style’?”

Was Achaemenid Art an 'International Style'?

Michael Roaf


The Gateway of All Lands showing clear influences from the artistic and architectural traditions of Assyria, Greece, Egypt, and Media. Persepolis (Iran). c. 480 BCE. Photograph by El-Len, taken on May 3, 2008. https://www.flickr.com/photos/27784269@N06/sets/72157605724793144/

In recent years there has been much interest in 'international style' works of art, which I understand to mean works of art that were appreciated and understood by people who had belonged to different artistic environments. The official art and architecture of the Persian Achaemenid emperors (c. 550-330 BCE) are well-known to be an eclectic mixture of elements from different cultures. The motifs borrowed are hardly modified from their original forms, whether from Assyrian, Babylonian, Elamite, Median, Greek, Egyptian, Scythian, or other artistic traditions, typical of regions which were incorporated into the all-encompassing Achaemenid Empire. The cultural sources of many of these elements are —and would have been in the past— easily recognizable. Do these material entanglements lead to the conclusion that Achaemenid art should be considered an 'international style' or are there other, perhaps more satisfactory, explanations of why it borrowed iconographic features from foreign traditions? In this project I will investigate these questions.