Iran's National Museum of Art touring exhibition currently at Antikenmuseum Basel chronicles seven thousand years of Persian art

The show is an attempt by Prime Minister Ayatollah Khatami to eliminate bad feeling between Iran and the West, and to spread awareness about the archaeological sites in the country under threat

This travelling exhibition (13 February-29 June) is at the second stage of a five-stop tour (it began at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, and goes on to Rome, Bonn and Ghent) and is the initiative of the National Museum of Iran. It consists of some 180 items, most pre-Islamic Iranian artefacts such as a gold ritual vessel, about 500-450 BC from Hamadan (right), which have left Iran for the first time since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and is intended as a good will gesture by the Tehran museum as part of Prime Minister Ayatollah Khatami’s efforts to normalise the country’s standing with the West, now strained by the growing hostilities in the Gulf. A number of these items are well known (such as the Persepolis relief fragments and Sassanian silver vessels), while others, from more recent excavations (such as the bust of King Shapur II from Hadjiabad), will be new to Persian art-lovers. Another unstated but obvious message of the show is to underline the perilous state of archaeology in Iran: the Revolution made it almost impossible for Western archaeologists to work in the country and the hardcore Islamists have little interest the country’s pre-Islamic archaeology and history. This display of objects illustrating the full sweep of Iran’s rich and varied history and cultures may help to soften increasingly polarised Western attitudes towards the region.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Seven thousand years of Persian art: masterpieces from the National Museum of Iran'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 133 February 2003