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Statuette d'orante

© R.M.N./Chuzeville

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
AB

Statues of praying figures served to perpetuate worshippers' prayers in the temple. They became widespread in the Sumerian world in the 3rd millennium BC, but first appeared several centuries earlier at Susa. The position of the figures, kneeling in their gowns, is characteristic of these statues.

The development of sculpture alongside the emergence of towns

During the proto-urban period, major changes took place in the fields of architecture, administration, the organization of power, and also in art. Sculpture developed in the form of stelae worked in bas-relief, decorated vases, and statues in the round. Human representation became realistic, with lifelike faces and bodily proportions rendered more or less accurately. The best-known image from this period is that of the priest-king, of which several examples in the round have been found in Mesopotamia. It is absent in Iran, however, where the only important figure represented in this manner is the mouflon spirit.
In Susa, a city in western Iran, original forms of sculpture were developed, with animals depicted in amusing and lively poses. Frogs clamber up the sides of a piglet or prepare to jump; a bear sitting on its haunches tries to empty the container it holds in its paws; a bustard perched on curled feet looks on with a watchful eye. The only statues of human beings were praying figures. These were highly popular in the 3rd millennium BC, but it was in Susa that they first appeared.

The praying figures of Susa

The first statuettes of praying figures were found in Susa in two depositories called "Archaic depots." The material of choice was alabaster, a stone that was readily available, easy to work, and more prestigious than limestone, which was also widely used in the late 4th millennium BC. The kneeling position in the garment was peculiar to Elamite worshipper figures, although an example has been found in Tell Agrab, in the Diyala region of Iraq. The figures are depicted with joined hands or bearing a vase as an offering. The small Susa worshippers are always shown with almond-shaped eyes and a hooked nose, the hair held in a band and falling in a rounded shape at the back, and with joined hands supporting very high-set breasts.

A unique statuette

This statuette is nonetheless exceptional. It is considerably larger than the others, and instead of being carved in a block, it occupies the space in a new manner: the arms are detached from the body and the fingers are raised to the chin. The sculptor was seeking to make a realistic portrayal of a particular gesture - almost certainly that of prayer - with the last two fingers intertwined and the thumbs meeting under the chin. There is a certain awkwardness in this new approach: the chin is slightly displaced, jutting forward to the point of prognathism, and the arms are a little too long. Nevertheless, this praying figure remains the most beautiful of the Susa series: "One of the most striking ancient expressions of prayer," as the leading specialist of Elamite art Pierre Amiet put it.

Bibliography

Amiet Pierre, Élam, Auvers-sur-Oise, Archée, 1966, n 91. Benoit Agnès, Art et archéologie : les civilisations du Proche-Orient ancien, Paris, École du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2003, pp. 200-201. Spycket Agnès, La Statuaire du Proche-Orient ancien, Leiden, Köln, 1981, p. 35, n 33.

Technical description

  • Statuette d'orante

    Epoque d'Uruk récentVers 3300 avant J.-C.

  • Albâtre

  • Sb 69

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Iran, Susiana, and the Iranian plateau
    Room 7
    Vitrine 3 : Suse II. Arts divers de l'époque d'Uruk récent (3300 - 3100 avant J.-C.).

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