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Work Ebih-Il, the Superintendent of Mari

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

Ebih-Il, the Superintendent of Mari

© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Raphaël Chipault

Near Eastern Antiquities
Mesopotamia

Author(s):
Iselin Claire

Many worshippers placed votive statues in their own image in the temples of Mari, thus perpetuating their prayers to 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 the Superintendent 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, and Ninizaza) dating from the mid-third millennium BC. The statue of the superintendent 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 Lamgi-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 and perfectly smooth alabaster of which this statue is made greatly enhances the subtle way in which the bust is sculpted. At the back of the statue there is an inscription that identifies the work: "Statue of Ebih-Il, the superintendent, dedicated to Ishtar Virile [Ishtar, goddess of war]".

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 (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.

Technical description

  • Ebih-Il, the Superintendent of Mari

    Period of the Archaic Dynasties, circa 2400 BC

    Temple of Ishtar, Mari (Syria)

  • Gypsum, lapis lazuli, shell

    H. 52.5 cm; W. 20.6 cm; D. 30 cm

  • André Parrot excavations, 1934-35

    AO 17551

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Ancient Mesopotamia
    Room 1 b

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