Wise men from the east: Zoroastrian traditions in Persia and beyond

Parsi Zoroastrian tiles 1990,0709.1

Parsi Zoroastrian tiles

Last week’s staff breakfast, presented by curator Vesta Curtis, introduced us to the new temporary exhibition at the BM; ‘Wise men from the east. Zoroastrian traditions in Persia and beyond’.

Zoroastrianism is an ancient, but living religion, practiced mainly in Persia (now Iran). It gets its name from the prophet Zoroastra, and its followers worship the supreme god Ahura Mazda, who leads his people to truth and righteousness, and away from the evil spirit Angra Mainyu.

The exhibition features objects and coins, both ancient and modern, to highlight the history and enduring cultural significance of Zoroastrianism.

Two key pieces were highlighted in the presentation. Firstly, the centrepiece of the exhibition, which is an enamelled reliquary casket from France, dated to AD1250. The imagery on the casket depicts the three kings or wise men, offering gifts to the virgin and child. It is an excellent example of Zoroastrian imagery being used to portray biblical events – the hands of the first king are covered, which is a sign of respect in Persian/Zoroastrian tradition.

Second, a set of six (AD 1980-89) ceramic tiles from a Parsi shrine (pictured). The tiles depict Ahura Mazda on the right, with the ‘sacred fire’ in the centre, and the legendary King Lohrasp of the Iranian epic Shahnama on the left. The tiles come from Mumbai, India and again show how Zoroastrian imagery and traditions have influenced other cultures and religions.

The exhibition is in room 69a at The British Museum until 27 April 2014 and is free to enter.