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Work Composite statuette of an anthropomorphic dragon-snake

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Statuette of a spirit, called "Scarface"

© 1993 RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
Benoit Agnès

"Scarfaces" are anthropomorphic dragon-snakes belonging to the mythology of central Asia, where they incarnated the hostile forces of the underworld. Their power was controlled not by killing them but by reducing them to silence by a slash across the right cheek. Thus dominated, they could become benevolent.

Uncertain origin

Very few scarface statuettes exist. Only four complete and three fragmentary examples are known. These pieces are thought to have been found in the Fars region of Iran, close to the modern town of Chiraz. However, this is uncertain, first, because it is based only on hearsay, and second, because the choice of materials and the way in which it can be taken apart links this small statue closely with the stone sculpture of the Oxus civilization in Bactria and Margiana during the third millennium BC. That civilization produced numerous princesses in chlorite or steatite and calcite.

Description of the "scarfaces"

Like the princesses of Bactria, scarfaces are bicolor statuettes, but the use of the materials-chlorite and calcite-is reversed. The body of the scarface is green and covered with snake scales, signifying his ophidian nature, and the skirt is white. There are two other white touches, in the eye and a tiny incrustation in the lower lip. These are calcium carbonate, perhaps fragments of shell. The head is circled by a band of meteoritic iron and there is a small hole in the forehead for fitting horns. Like the three other complete examples, that in the Louvre is meant to hold a vase under his arm. This would perhaps contain beneficial water that the evil figure is withholding. The strength of the figure is expressed in his emphasized musculature, and his expression is made more intense by the absence of a neck.

Links with the great goddess

The scar across his cheek that gives the figure its nickname is a mark of the domination exerted by the great goddess of Central Asian mythology, who reigns over beings and their conflicts. The scar certainly serves to ward off the evil power of the dragon. The two tiny holes on either side of the lips are additional signs of domination, being intended for a nail to prevent the character from speaking. Thus mastered and dominated, the scarface loses his evil powers but is not killed.
Dragons belong to a fundamental layer of very ancient oriental mythology, reaching from Mesopotamia to the Far East. They symbolize primitive, archaic forces in nature. They rarely take human form and their appearance is generally that of strong animals such as lions, snakes, and birds of prey.

Bibliography

Benoit Agnès, Art et archéologie : les civilisations du Proche-Orient ancien, Paris, 2003, pp. 314-17.
Ghirshman Roman, "Notes iraniennes XII. Statuettes élamites archaïques du Fars (Iran)", in Artibus Asiae 26, 1963, pp. 151-60.
Nagel Wolfram, "Westmakkanische Rundplastik", in Berliner Jahrbuch für Vor- und Frühgeschichte 8, 1968, pp. 110-11 et pp. 104-19.

Technical description

  • Statuette of a spirit, called "Scarface"

  • Chlorite, limestone, iron (headband)

  • Acquired in 1961

    AO 21104

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Iran and Bactria
    Room 9
    Display case 3: Bactrian period (late 3rd–early 2nd millenium BC)

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