One Show, Five Millennia: 5,000 Years Of Iran At V&A
2,500 years ago, Cyrus the Great, founder of the first Persian Empire, buried a cylinder inscribed with words stating he was a just ruler who strove for peace and allowed everyone to practise their religion freely.
Even Cyrus might be surprised it's being admired all this time after, yet it's among a dazzling cornucopia of items — ancient and contemporary — in V&A's Epic Iran exhibition, spanning 5,000 years.
Cramming five millennia into one show is no small ask. But while this exhibition sometimes feels like several smaller ones rolled up together, this rarely diminishes the impact in telling the story of the region known today as Iran, and of the different sects of Islam.
From an ancient male figure that may have been used for spiritual purposes, to a bejewelled oil barrel by contemporary artist Shiva Ahmadi, we're whisked through the rise and fall of empires.
Carved friezes from Persian empires include one of 'The Immortals', the elite bodyguard of the emperor, shown here as powerful and dignified, not the bizarre monsters they were in the film 300. One frieze has been 'coloured in' using a digital projector, so we can see what Persians at the time would have seen. I first saw this tech used at the Ashurbanipal exhibition, and it really makes the scene pop.
What this show excels at is plucking highlights from Iran's bountiful history: a gold drinking vessel with the head of a lion; decorative Qurans; a drawing of legendary Persian hero Rustam blinding his opponent with a two headed arrow.
Elsewhere, mosaic patterns are projected on to a dome, and I'm particularly touched by a recitation of a poem which tells of a moth drawn to flame; an allegory for the consuming nature of love.
Inevitably, there are moments when you feel you're zipping along overly fast. But you really couldn't ask for a better introduction to the art and culture of a region that unquestionably lives up to its epic status.
Epic Iran is on at V&A until 12 September. Tickets are £18 for adults.
Last Updated 26 May 2021