LONDON.- The British Museum
today announces that one of its most iconic objects, the Cyrus Cylinder, will tour to five major museum venues in the United States in 2013. This will be the first time this object has been seen in the US and the tour is supported by the Iran Heritage Foundation.
The Cyrus Cylinder is one of the most famous objects to have survived from the ancient world. The Cylinder was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform (cuneiform is the earliest form of writing) on the orders of the Persian King Cyrus the Great (559-530BC) after he captured Babylon in 539BC. It is often referred to as the first bill of human rights as it appears to encourage freedom of worship throughout the Persian Empire and to allow deported people to return to their homelands. It was found in Babylon in modern Iraq in 1879 during a British Museum excavation and has been on display ever since.
The Cyrus Cylinder is truly an object of world heritage, produced for a Persian king in Iraq and seen and studied for over 130 years in the British Museum. It is valued by people all around the world as a symbol of tolerance and respect for different peoples and different faiths, so much so that a copy of the cylinder is on display in the United Nations building in New York. The Museum has previously lent the Cylinder to the National Museum of Iran in 2010 - 2011 where it was seen by over one million people. This tour will provide the first opportunity for a wide US audience to engage with this unique object of world importance.
The Cylinder will travel with an exhibition of sixteen objects under the title The Cyrus Cylinder in Ancient Persia. The exhibition shows the innovations initiated by Persian rule in the Ancient Near East (550 BC-331 BC). The Persian Empire was then the largest the world had known. It had a huge impact on the ancient world, introducing changes in terms of ethical behaviour as witnessed in the proclamation on the Cyrus Cylinder. A gold plaque from the Oxus Treasure with the representation of a priest shows the spread of the Zoroastrian religion at this time. Persian kings also introduced a new writing system, Old Persian cuneiform, as seen on part of a column base from Hamadan, and on the famous seal of Darius (522-486 BC). They also developed new forms of luxury goods including beautifully decorated gold and silver bowls and sumptuous gold bracelets featuring fantastic animal shapes, some of them from the Oxus Treasure.
The tour will debut at the Smithsonians Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington DC in March 2013 before travelling to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco and will conclude at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa Los Angeles in October (full dates below). The exhibition is curated by John Curtis, Keeper of Special Middle East Projects at the British Museum and curatorial colleagues at each of the venues.
Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum said, You could almost say that the Cyrus Cylinder is A History of the Middle East in one object and it is a link to a past which we all share and to a key moment in history that has shaped the world around us. Objects are uniquely able to speak across time and space and this object must be shared as widely as possible. I am delighted that it will travel to the US and am hugely grateful to both our US partners and the Iran Heritage Foundation for making this possible.
John Curtis, Keeper of Special Middle East Projects at the British Museum said The Cyrus Cylinder and associated objects represent a new beginning for the Ancient Near East. The Persian period, commencing in 550 BC, was not just a change of dynasty but a time of change in the ancient world. Some of these changes and innovations are highlighted in the exhibition.
Alireza Rastegar, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Iran Heritage Foundation America, said "Iran Heritage Foundation is proud to be partners with the British Museum and leading US venues in bringing this magnificent exhibition to the United States. The Cyrus Cylinder and its message of respect for diversity and universal human rights carries a timely message about tolerance for all of us today. We are very grateful to the Iranian American community who have supported us in this endeavour and are looking forward to a positive reception as the Cylinder tours the US.
Smithsonians Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 9th March 28th April 2013
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 3rd May 14th June 2013
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 20th June 4th August 2013
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 9th August 22nd September 2013
J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, Los Angeles, 2nd October 2nd December 2013