Bas-relief of Cyrus the Great on a pillar at Pasargadae


Upon discovering the bas-relief at Pasargadae, Porter ‘lost no time in measuring and drawing this invaluable piece of antiquity’. In his Travels he gave a lengthy description and interpretation of the column. Much impressed by the sculpture, he wrote: ‘The proportions of the figure are not in the least defective, nor can any fault be found with its taste, being perfectly free from the dry wooden appearance we generally find in Egyptian works of the kind… I considered it a duty to the history of art, to copy the forms before me, exactly as I saw; without allowing my pencil to add, or diminish, or to alter a line… such undeviating accuracy to the utmost of my power, is the principle to which I bound myself in the execution of all the drawings I made in the East’ (p. 493).

In the drawing, the local guide acts as a useful reference for the scale of the monument (estimated by Porter as about 15 feet tall). The cuneiform inscription above the figure, which he carefully recorded, was subsequently translated by a German expert, thus identifying the figure as Cyrus the Great (c. 600 or 576–529 BCE), the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. Recognising the crown as being in the Egyptian style, as seen at Philae, Porter made a small sketch of a figure at Thebes in the lower margin of the page.

Full title:
Bas-relief of Cyrus the Great on a pillar at Pasargadae
June 1818
Watercolour / View
Sir Robert Ker Porter
© British Library
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Add. MS 14758, f.56

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Sir Robert Ker Porter's accounts of his travels in the Middle East gave a glimpse into a region that was largely unknown to most Europeans. His original watercolours provide a compelling visual source and are both descriptive of their settings and beautiful works of art in their own right. Christopher Wright recounts Porter's journey into an unfamiliar and enchanting landscape.

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