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Work The statue of Ebih-Il, nu-banda

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

The statue of Ebih-Il, nu-banda

© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Raphaël Chipault

Near Eastern Antiquities
Mesopotamia

Author(s):

Sophie Cluzan

 

 

Many worshippers placed votive statues in their own image in the temples of Mari, thus perpetuating their presence before the deity. These statues of praying figures are mostly depicted with their hands joined and wearing a garment known as a kaunakes skirt. The statue of Ebih-Il is a masterpiece by virtue of its craftsmanship, state of preservation, and expressive style.
 

The masterpiece of Mari sculpture
 

Excavations carried out in 1933 by André Parrot of the site of Mari, in Syria, led to the discovery of temples dedicated to different deities (Ishtar, Ishtarat, Nini.ZAZA ..) dating from 2340 BC. The statue of Ebih-Il was discovered in the temple of the goddess Ishtar Virile, the first temple excavated at Mari. Another statue from the same period, representing King Ishqi-Mari, whose inscription enables us to identify Tell Hariri as the site of ancient Mari, was also found in this temple. 
Ebih-Il is seated on a wicker stool. He is bare-chested and wears a long kaunakes skirt, a garment made from sheepskin or goatskin or from a cloth simulating the fleece of an animal. The kaunakes was worn by both men and women. The way in which the woolly texture of the kaunakes worn by Ebih-Il is depicted, as well as the presence of a tail at the back of the garment, confirms that it is made of animal hide, rendered here with a realism that is quite rare. The figure has a shaven head and wears a long beard, which must have been inlaid with another material. Only the eyes have retained their inlay of shell and lapis lazuli set in shale, the whole set in bitumen. 
Lapis lazuli, which came from Afghanistan, testifies to the fact that long-distance relationships had been established between countries in the Middle East as early as the third millennium BC. The translucent alabaster of which this statue is made greatly enhances the subtle way in which the bust is sculpted as well as its faint smile. At the back of the statue there is an inscription that identifies the work: “Nu-banda Ebih-II offered his statue to Ishtar Virile.” Ebih-II’s title was formerly translated as “superintendent” but is now understood to correspond to nu-banda. The office of nu-banda could include major responsibilities, especially related to the army. This new detail makes it clear that Ebih-II belonged to the kingdom’s highest echelons, which explains not only the quality of his statue but also the restoration effort implemented in antiquity following an accident. Recent studies have revealed the link that should be made between the presence of this nu-banda in the temple of the goddess of war and power and the presence of the King Ishqi-Mari.
 

Statues of praying figures 
                                                                                          

Statues of praying figures were intended to be placed in the temples dedicated to their tutelary gods. The clasped hands, the most frequent pose depicted, have been interpreted as the attitude of prayer presumably intended to perpetuate the act of devotion in the temple. The figure might also hold a goblet in his hands, as in the perforated relief carvings depicting banquet scenes, which were also placed in temples. This type of statuary, inaugurated at the time of the Archaic Dynasties (essentially during phases II and III, or circa 2800–2340 BC) would last into later eras and the large number of statues representing Prince Gudea of Lagash Tello (Musée du Louvre) illustrate this phenomenon. Despite some variations, representations of praying figures followed the same pattern. They feature male or female worshippers. Most are of stone, but some metal versions also exist. Their height varies from a few centimeters to over a meter: the statue of Ebih-Il is 52 centimeters. The figures were depicted either sitting or standing.

Some statues bear inscriptions enabling us to identify the figures represented and to establish their role in society. At Mari, the inscriptions refer to men only; the women remain entirely anonymous. These men and women belonged to the higher social classes: they were either high-ranking dignitaries or courtiers (kings, king’s brothers, nu-banda, precentor, superintendents, officers, land officials, scribes, cupbearers), members of the clergy (like the priestesses represented by the female figures in Mari), or affluent merchants.

Bibliography

- Parrot A., "Les Fouilles de Mari, première campagne (hiver 1933- 1934)", in Syria, XVI, Paris, P. Geuthner, 1935, pp. 25-27, fig. 8, pl. VIII.

- Parrot A., Mission archéologique de Mari, I, Le Temple d'Ishtar, Paris, Institut français d'archéologie du Proche-Orient, 1956 (Bibliothèque archéologique et historique, LXV), p. 70, pl. XXVIII-XXIX.

- Strommenger E., Hirmer M., Cinq millénaires d'art mésopotamien : de 5000 avant J.-C. à Alexandre le Grand, Paris, Flammarion, 1964, fig. 88-89, p.71, pl. XX.

- Spycket A., La Statuaire du Proche-Orient ancien, Leyde, E. J. Brill, 1981, (Handbuch der orientalistik, kunst und archäologie), p. 97, n 279, pl. 64.
Guide du visiteur : Les Antiquités orientales, 1993.

- Cluzan S. et Lecompte C., Ebih-Il. Collection Solo. Editions du Louvre/Somogy, Paris 2011.

- Cluzan S. et Butterlin P., Voués à Ishtar. Syrie, janvier 1934, André Parrot découvre Mari, Les Editions de l’Institut Français du Proche-Orient, Beyrouth, 2014.

- Cluzan S. et Lecompte C., “Le nu-banda Ebih-Il. Nouvelles perspectives historiques”, in Beyer d., Utterlin p., Cavigneaux a. et al. (dir.), Actes du colloque international Mari ni Est ni Ouest ?, Damas, 20-22 oct. 2010 (Syria, Suppl. 2), Beyrouth, Ifpo : p. 629-673

Technical description

  • Statue d’Ebih-II, nu-banda

    Epoque des dynasties archaïques, vers 2400 av. J.-C.

    Mari, temple d'Ishtar

  • Gypse, lapis-lazuli, coquille

    H. : 52,50 cm. ; L. : 20,60 cm. ; Pr. : 30 cm.

  • Fouilles A. Parrot, 1934 - 1935

    AO 17551

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Ancient Mesopotamia
    Room 1 b

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