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Work Gudea, prince of Lagash, seated statue dedicated to the god Ningishzida

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

Gudea, Prince of Lagash
Seated statue dedicated to the god Ningishzida

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Philippe Fuzeau

Near Eastern Antiquities
Mesopotamia

Author(s):
Benoit Nicolas

Gudea, prince of the independent kingdom of Lagash in the late 3rd millennium, is known for his piety and prolific building of temples. This statuette is the only complete specimen of a series of diorite representations of this prince, alternately standing and sitting. An inscription engraved on his robe indicates that it is dedicated to the god Ningishzida.

A complete statue of Gudea

This statue was found during the excavations at Tello (ancient Girsu), capital of the kingdom of Lagash. It was unearthed in two stages: E. de Sarzec found the head in 1877; Captain Cros, his successor, discovered the body in 1903. The French archaeologists had already found many of these diorite figures with massive bodies, sometimes shown standing, sometimes seated. None of them were complete, however: the bodies were found without heads, the heads were isolated. L. Heuzey succeeded in assembling the two fragments of this statue, the first and only complete representation of this prince, with an engraved inscription on the robe enabling us to identify him as Gudea, patesi of Lagash in the mid 22nd century BC.

Gudea, prince of Lagash

The reign of Gudea, illustrated by this series of representations, is relatively well documented. Following the fall of the Akkadian empire, the cities of southern Mesopotamia founded independent dynasties: Gudea succeeded his father-in-law Ur-Ba'u, founder of the second dynasty of Lagash. He devoted himself to building temples to the most important gods of Girsu: Ningirsu and Nanshe, Ningishzida and Geshtinanna. The statuary of his reign, consisting mainly in representations of himself, is a reflection of his piety, in constrast with the bellicose themes of art of the Akkadian period. The inscription on the statuette is a dedication to the god Ningishzida, who was Gudea's personal god; a list of the temples built by the prince follows, ending with the temple of Ningishzida built in the oldest district of the city, where the statuette stood.

A royal portrait

Wearing a royal turban with stylized curls on his head, the clean-shaven face of Gudea is calm and smiling. His almond-shaped eyes are surmounted by large eyebrows represented in the conventional fish-bone shape. He wears a draped, fringed robe, a garment already worn in the Akkadian period. One muscular arm is left uncovered. His hands are joined in a sign of piety. The tranquil, powerful pose of the prince is underscored by the dark color of the diorite, used in all of his representations. This stone already had a kingly connotation in earlier periods, and it is known through a text that Gudea, anxious to ensure the durability of the work, imposed its use, importing it at great cost from the Gulf region. The unusual proportions of the figure are also striking: in the absence of a neck, the head appears too large, encased in a body that is too small. The undeniable quality of the workmanship rules out any clumsiness on the part of the sculptor, so the figure's odd form either reflects a sculptural convention of the period or technical constraints related to the use of a block of stone in its natural state.

Bibliography

Heuzey Léon, Une statue complète de Goudéa, in Revue d'Assyriologie et d'Archéologie Orientale, 6, Leroux, 1904, pp. 18-22.
Thureau-Dangin François, Nouvelle inscription de Goudéa, in Revue d'Assyriologie et d'Archéologie Orientale, 6, Leroux, 1904, pp. 23-25.
Parrot André, Sumer, Gallimard, coll. "L'Univers des Formes", 1960, p. 204, ill. 251.
Catalogue d'exposition : Portraits du louvre : choix d'oeuvres dans les collections du Louvre, Tokyo, Musée national d'art occidental, 18 septembre - 1er décembre 1991, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1991, p. 46.
Catalogue d'exposition: Art of the First Cities : the Third Millenium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 8 mai - 17 août 2003, The Metropolitan Museum, 2003, pp. 428-430, cat. n 305.

Technical description

  • Gudea, Prince of Lagash
    Seated statue dedicated to the god Ningishzida

    C. 2120 BC

    Tello (ancient Girsu)

  • Diorite

    H. 46 cm; W. 33 cm; D. 22.50 cm

  • E. de Sarzec excavations (head): AO 3293
    G. Cros excavations, 1903 (body): AO 4108

    AO 3293, AO 4108

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Mesopotamia, c. 2350–2000 BC
    Room 2

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