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Work Panels of molded bricks

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Panels of molded bricks

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
Alexandra Keens

These panels of molded bricks were used to decorate the facade of the exterior temple on the Susa hill. This monument, dedicated to royal worship under the Shutrukid dynasty, was commissioned by the kings of this dynasty. Begun by Kutir-Nahunte, the work was completed by Shilhak-Inshushinak. The panels feature alternating figures of bull-men protecting a palm tree and Lama goddesses, also considered as protective divinities.

A temple in honor of the Elamite Shutrukid dynasty

The king Shilhak-Inshushinak rebuilt the two great temples at Susa. The high temple on the acropolis was dedicated to Inshushinak, the great god of the Susian Plain. The exterior sanctuary, built on the Apadana mound, where Darius was to build his palace six centuries later, was primarily used for the royal worship of the Shutrukid dynasty, to which this king belonged. These panels of molded bricks were used to decorate the facade of the monument. Inscriptions half-way up the panels describe the circumstances of its construction. Kutir-Nahunte, brother of Shilhak-Inshushinak, ordered the erection of the building and its decoration with molded bricks, but died before seeing the project through. Shilhak-Inshushinak resumed and completed the work.

Goddesses and mythological creatures, protectors of nature and men

On the panels, the figure of a bull-man protecting a palm tree alternates with a Lama goddess. The bull-man, traditional guardian of temple gates, represented a combination of human genius and the strength and power of the bull. The bull-man is here shown wearing a tiara with several tiers of horns, a divine attribute. In Mesopotamian mythology, this figure is the acolyte of the sun-god Shamash. Pictured with a stylized palm tree, he evokes the crucial role of the sun in plant life. The date palm was a key element in Mesopotamian mythology, a major source of inspiration in Iranian thought. The date palm symbolized plant life as a whole: in a landscape of plains, where agricultural income was of the utmost importance, plant life was at the center of human concerns. The tree's thin palms suggest the rays of the sun that warm them. The Lama goddess, also considered a protective divinity, guarded the effigies of the royal family. The goddess is shown with arms raised in the traditional gesture of blessing. Thus, worshippers were welcomed by reassuring figures who ensured the serenity of the divine dwelling and the dynastic chapel.

The Mesopotamian influence

The terra-cotta bricks were molded. This type of architectural decoration had already been used in Mesopotamia, at Uruk, in the Kassite period, on the facade of the temple dedicated to the goddess Inanna. The method of production of these decorative elements and the figures represented on them show the strong influence of the Mesopotamian culture on the neighboring region of Elam. Several pictorial details are Iranian, however, such as the two lines marking the knees of the bull-men and the inscriptions in Elamite script.

Bibliography

Amiet Pierre, Élam, Auvers-sur-Oise, Archée éditeur, 1966, p. 390, fig. 296 et 299.
Amiet Pierre, Suse : 6 000 ans d’histoire, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, coll. « Monographies des musées de France », 1988, pp. 98-99, fig. 57.
Benoit Agnès, Art et archéologie : les civilisations du Proche-Orient ancien, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, coll. « Manuels de l’École du Louvre », 2003, pp. 360-361, fig. 181.
Borne interactive du département des Antiquités orientales.

Technical description

  • Panels of molded bricks

    Mid 12th century BC

    Apadana mound, Susa

  • Baked clay

    H. 1.355 m; W. 0.375 m

  • Excavations led by Roland de Mecquenem 1913¿21; panels sb19575¿19577 were restored thanks to the Philip Morris Jury Prize, 1991

    Sb 2732, Sb 2733, Sb 2734, Sb 2735, Sb 14390, Sb 14391, Sb 19575, Sb 19576, Sb 19577

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Iran, Susiana (Middle Elamite period)
    Room 10

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Additional information about the work

Ekta RMN 99DE5553