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Work The Hunt Patera
Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Levant
The Hunt Patera
© 2009 RMN / Franck Raux
Near Eastern Antiquities
This gold dish was discovered with another, now at the Aleppo Museum, on the acropolis of Ugarit, near the temenos wall of a temple. Its decoration, typical of the international art of the period, shows Egyptian and Aegean influences (the latter perhaps in the "flying gallop") as well as the mark of Levantine tradition. It represents the king of Ugarit hunting, but the scene probably also has a distinct symbolic significance.
This fragmentary dish has a flat bottom and vertical sides. The embossed decoration, hammered from the outside, is organized in different registers separated by a thin fillet. Four ibex walk in a circle in the small frieze around the central medallion. In the main outer frieze is the hunter, on a chariot drawn by two horses, accompanied by a dog.
He shoots his bow while driving the chariot with the reins tied to his belt: this demonstration of skill is borrowed from the Egyptian royal imagery of the New Kingdom. The fleeing quarry include animals at a "flying gallop." Ahead of the king is a wild goat, then a slender young bull, a cow beneath whose udder runs a bewildered young calf, and finally, at the head of the herd, a larger bull, which by reason of the circular composition finds itself behind the hunter. The artist has taken advantage of this to show the bull with head lowered, threatening the chariot. This type of dynamic composition was used to represent royal hunts in the Egypt of the New Kingdom, and was adopted in Levantine work, probably through the use of patterns. This dish is typical of the "international style" which flourished at the time in the court of Egypt, in Cyprus, and in the Levant.
Found within the sacred precinct
The exploration of the tell at Ras Shamra began at its highest point, the acropolis, raised up on a natural eminence by the accumulation of buildings from the 7th millennium onwards. Claude Schaeffer discovered the so-called house of the high priest, which yielded a library of mythological texts in Akkadian and in the local language. On either side of the house were the remains of two temples, each consisting of a cella and an antechamber and surrounded by a temenos wall. One was identified as the sanctuary of Baal, and the other as that of Dagon. Behind the temenos wall of the temple of Baal was a cache containing two gold dishes, of which one went to the Aleppo Museum and the other to the Louvre.
A symbolic hunt?
From two different artists working in the international style, these two dishes illustrate one aspect of the mythological and intellectual beliefs of the time: the endless circle of fabulous animals traveling through a singular nature would seem to be a reference to the perfection of creation, whose equilibrium is assured by the ceaseless struggle with the savage forces of nature engaged in by the hero, the mythical ancestor and model of the ideal sovereign. The hunter on this dish is clearly distinguishable from his Egyptian models: with his beard, aquiline profile, and short curly hair, unmistakably Asiatic, he corresponds to the stereotypical representation in Egyptian art of the vanquished and humiliated foreigner. Here, triumphant in his royal chariot, the ruler of Ugarit indulges in a hunt-the kingly sport par excellence. It is probable that the Hunt Patera, together with its counterpart in Aleppo, bears a symbolic significance: this "family" of wild cattle is perhaps an allusion to the principal deities evoked in Ugaritic poetry under bovine epithets: the old bull would be El, the father of the gods, the heifer, Anat, and the young bull, Baal. Might the Louvre cup, a princely gift to the temple of the god, reveal a lost episode in the mythology of Ugarit?
The Hunt Patera
Late Bronze, c. 14th-13th centuries BC
Acropolis, near the temple of Baal, Ras Shamra, ancient Ugarit, Levant [Syria]
Hammered and repoussé gold
H. 3.1 cm; Diam. 18.8 cm
Excavations by C. Schaeffer and G. Chenet, 1933
Royal hunting scene in the outer registerCapridae in the inner register
Levant: coastal Syria, Ugarit, and Byblos
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