Art and Empire
15 November 2018
Comparison of Bisitun Relief of Darius I and the Gospels of Otto III
The art of Emperor depiction is one that has been perfected, re-invented, and re-perfected time and time again throughout the course of human history. However, though style choices, forms, and content matter change from artist to artist and from emperor to emperor, there are some interweaving similarities that can be seen within a large portion of the collection of emperor representations from the earliest empires to more modern civilizations. This idea is clearly demonstrated through the comparison of the Bisitun Relief of Darius I from the Achaemenid Period in 500’s B.C.E Iran with the Gospels of Otto III from the Ottonian Empire in 1000’s C.E. Germany. Though both emperors and their respective empires are vastly different, both empire’s depiction of their ruler has striking similarities, even when the more underlying context and content matter are different.
To begin, the Bisitun Relief of Darius I is a multilingual relief located in Bisitun, Iran depicting Darius the Great addressing representations of the multiple rebellions that occurred within the Persian Empire and that Darius proclaims himself victorious in defeating the numerous rebellions and uniting the Persian Empire under his rule. The relief was carved along the main trade route within the Persian Empire and includes inscriptions in various languages that were spoken in the surrounding areas so that anyone passing through the empire was told the story of Darius the I’s greatness and prowess in bringing prosperity and power to the Persian Empire. Darius can be seen holding a great bow of kingship while stepping on one of the rebellion representations and addressing the remaining collection of rebels, each of which can be uniquely identified both by their individual characteristics as well as their own written descriptions. However, it is not just Darius’ power over the physical world that is displayed within this relief, but his relationship with the spiritual world is made evident as well. We see a Faravahar giving its blessing to King Darius, symbolizing his rightful status as king in the eyes of his people and those he has conquered, as well as in the eyes of the gods.
Moving ahead over a century and across the globe, Otto III was being crowned king of Germany. As a gift to him and his newly appointed kingship, the Gospel book of Otto III was created and given to him as a gift. Within the Gospel Book is a depiction of Otto being crowned king of Germany while being brought gifts by personifications of the four main provinces of the Ottonian Empire at the time, Roma, Gallia, Germania, and Sclavania. Each of the province personifications are uniquely identified both in their characteristics and wardrobe as well as written labels above their heads. Otto III is depicted, larger and higher up than anyone else in the scene, sitting upon his throne,...