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La peinture de  l'Investiture

© 2005 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing

Near Eastern Antiquities
Mesopotamia

Author(s):
Iselin Claire

One of the most distinctive features of the Amorite palace at Mari is its painted decoration. Many rooms and courtyards retain the traces of pictorial decoration, most often in the form of decorative motifs but sometimes in the form of large figurative compositions. Of these very fragile works it has been possible to reconstruct the famous Investiture of Zimri-Lim, showing a scene in which the king does homage to the goddess Ishtar, at the center of a composition representing the Mari palace.

The investiture of the king of Mari

The Investiture of Zimri-Lim is the only Near Eastern pictorial composition of the second millennium BC in the format of a framed panel rather than a frieze. What is more, it was discovered still in place, on its original wall, to the right of the great doorway that gives onto the podium room (Room 64), the antechamber to the throne room (Room 65). The south wall of Court 106 had the painting of the Director of the Sacrifice, part of which may be seen at the Louvre (AO 19825). The principal theme of the Investiture painting - a divinity, in this case Ishtar, offering the king the scepter and staff, the insignia of rule - is also represented on other monuments, such as the Code of Hammurabi (Sb 8).
On the two symmetrical side panels are subsidiary elements: the goddess Lama interceding, a palm, a composite tree, fabulous guardian animals. The symbolism (jets of water, plants, the gathering of dates) highlights the assurance of fertility the king in his palace is meant to provide. The warlike aspect of Ishtar with her lion - positioned exactly in the middle of the painting - is counterbalanced by the dove, an attribute of her pacific and loving aspect. The human-headed bull, the griffin, and the sphinx prefigure the colossal door-guardians of Neo-Assyrian palaces such as that at Khorsabad.

A depiction of the interior of the Mari palace

The painting echoes the architecture in which it was placed. The two registers of the middle panel represent an enfilade of ceremonial chambers of identical size and an area open to the skies.
The throne room of the palace was in fact accessed through a room of very similar size. This housed a podium, at the foot of which was found the body of a statue of a goddess. She held a vase, from which, thanks to a plumbing system, there flowed real water, as shown in the painting.
The duplication of the statue in the painted panel may be explained by an artistic convention that required, as in the case of heraldic motifs, the symmetrical depiction of the two profiles of a figure. The space between the two representations of the statue gives a view to the farther room where the ceremony of royal investiture takes place. The side panels represent the vast Court 106, in the center of which the excavations revealed an arrangement to support the trunk of the palm-tree, presumably artificial, that is mentioned in the texts.

Recent restoration

The nature of the ground, a skin of whitewash or plaster on the mud plaster of the wall of unbaked brick, the fresco secco technique (true fresco appearing in Crete in the early second millennium BC), and the humid conditions meant that such paintings were poorly preserved in the region.
Furthermore, the Investiture painting was considerably darkened and damaged when Hammurabi of Babylon set fire to the city in around 1760 BC, causing the complete destruction of its monuments.
As part of the reorganization of the display at the Louvre, this painting was recently cleaned and cleared of the repainting done in previous restorations, revealing hitherto unknown details (fish in the jetting water, the scalloped hem of the king's robe, etc.) and in places restoring an unexpected vibrancy to the colors (one of the bulls still being a vivid orange).

Bibliography

Parrot A., Mission archéologique de Mari, volumes I à IV, Institut français d'archéologie de Beyrouth, Bibliothèque archéologique et historique, Paris, Librairie orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1956 à 1968.
Margueron J.-Cl., Recherches sur les palais mésopotamiens de l'âge du Bronze, Institut français d'archéologie du Proche-Orient, Bibliothèque archéologique et historique, t. CVII, Paris, Librairie orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1982.
Margueron J.-Cl., Durand J.-M. (éd.), M.A.R.I., Annales de recherches interdisciplinaires, 1 à 8, Paris, ERC, 1982-1997.
Margueron J. Cl., et Pfirsch L., Le Proche-Orient et l'Egypte antiques, Hachette Supérieur, Paris, 1996.
Margueron J.-Cl., Les Mésopotamiens, 2e édition, Paris, Picard, 2003.
Muller B., "La restauration de l'Investiture", in Dossiers d'archéologie, n 288, nov. 2003, pp. 42-43.

Technical description

  • La peinture de  l'Investiture

    Seconde moitié du XIXe siècle avant J.-C.

    Mari, palais royal

  • Peinture à la détrempe sur enduit de terre chaulé

    H 1.75 m; W. 2.50 m

  • Fouilles A. Parrot, 1935 - 1936

    The Investiture of Zimri-Lim

    AO 19826

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Mesopotamia, 2nd and 1st millennia BC
    Room 3

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