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Work Head of a god

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Levant

Head of a god

Near Eastern Antiquities
Levant

Author(s):
Iselin Claire

This basalt sculpture of a Syrian god is a rare surviving example of monumental statuary from Amorite Syria. Wearing a robe trimmed with thick braid and with his hair styled in an ovoid shape topped with pairs of horns, the head of the god is in the tradition of Syrian statuary and glyptics of the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1600 BC). The god's eyes would have been set in a different material for an even more striking effect.

The head of a Syrian god

This life-sized head, carved in basalt, was found in the region of Lake Jabbul, east of Aleppo, and was purchased in 1926. It represents a clean-shaven figure who must originally have been wearing a robe, as some thick braiding can be seen at the nape of the neck. Such robes are familiar thanks to bronze statuettes dating from the same period from the Levant (Ugarit) and inner Syria, such as the statuette of a seated god found in the region of Qatna, now in the Louvre.
Such robes are also depicted on Syrian cylindrical seals dating from the Middle Bronze Age (1800-1700 BC). Here, the figure is shown with an ovoid headdress topped with four rows of horns, indicating his importance in the pantheon. The headdress is very similar to that of the bronze statuette of the seated god from Qatna, dating from the Middle Bronze Age. The eyes of the Syrian god would have originally been set in a different material.

Monumental statuary from Amorite Syria

The Middle Bronze Age (2000-1600 BC) saw semi-nomadic tribes known as Amorites settling in Mesopotamia and Syria. The Amorites spoke a western Semitic language. They settled in the region early in the second millennium BC and founded prosperous kingdoms in Syria, including Alalakh, Qatna, Ugarit, Mari, Ebla, and Aleppo. Syria underwent a period of urbanization, with towns such as Qatna and Ebla ringed by major fortifications and the construction of palaces in Ebla and Alalakh. Until recently, Amorite Syrian monumental statuary was known from just a few works, generally severely damaged. Recent finds, particularly in the region of Qatna, have shed more light on the question. Apart from the schematic human figures found in Syria, particularly in Tell Brak and Tell Nebi Mend (known in Antiquity as Qadesh), and in Mesopotamia in Tell Billa and Tell Al Rimah, Syria had a fine tradition of monumental statuary in the Middle Bronze Age. Artists produced portraits of kings and princes, such as the head of an Alalakh king wearing a turban, his face marked with wrinkles. This piece was carved in diorite, with the eyes set in a different material. Many statues have been found in the shrine to the goddess Ishtar in Ebla, such as the basalt statue of a seated king wearing a hemmed garment with a fringed trim and with a curly beard, or another, also in basalt, of a standing queen wearing a fringed garment and bracelets. Unfortunately, both of these are in fragmentary condition. A less detailed statue depicts a high-ranking dignitary from Ebla wearing a robe trimmed with braid and a sword with a curved blade. The gods of the Syrian pantheon are also represented in stone statuettes, such as the god El, worshipped in Ugarit, who is wearing a tall headdress and a robe trimmed with thick braid, or as life-sized statues such as this head of a Syrian god.

Bibliography

Dussaud R., "L'art syrien du IIe millénaire avant notre ère", in Syria, VII, 1926, p. 342, pl. LXXI. . Spycket A., La Statuaire du Proche-Orient ancien, Leyde, E. J. Brill, 1981 (Handbuch der Orientalistik, Kunst und Archäelogie, Band 1), p. 266, pl. 181.
Au pays de Baal et d'Astarté : 10 000 ans d'art en Syrie, catalogue d'exposition : Paris, Petit Palais, 26 octobre 1983-08 janvier 1984, Paris, Association française d'action artistique - Paris Musées, 1983, p. 130, n 164.
Guide du visiteur : Les Antiquités orientales, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1993, p. 195.

Technical description

  • Head of a god

    Late Middle Bronze Age (c. 1600 BC)

    Jabul (southeast of Aleppo)

  • Basalt

    H. 35 cm; W. 27 cm

  • Acquired in 1926

    AO 10831

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Levant
    Room C

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