Surrealism and the Reliefs of the Sasanian High Priest Kartir


Kartir was the most important religious leader in early Iran at the time of the Sasanian empire. The rock reliefs and inscriptions left by him contain some important features that occur for the first time in Iranian art history. Specifically, Kartir’s rock reliefs reveal that someone who was not a king could still be influential enough to commission a monument in which he was the central figure. Kartir’s inscriptions appear next to the reliefs of the previous king, or were even inserted into the same panel. In this way, the traditional construction of these reliefs was altered, as were their respective meanings. Furthermore, Kartir describes an imaginary journey to another world in his inscriptions. The article considers the role of dreams in Kartir's art and what influence this had on this new style of composition, comparing it with what we now call ‘surrealism’.