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Statuette of an ibex

© 2001 Musée du Louvre / Christian Larrieu

Near Eastern Antiquities
Arabia

Author(s):
Demange Françoise

The ibex, a large caprid that lives in steep rocky areas, was associated with Almaqah, one of the chief gods in the pantheon. Worshippers dedicated statuettes of this mountain animal, which symbolized vigor and the vitality of wildlife. Ibexes were captured during ritual hunts to attract divine favor, which would ensure rainfall and the fertility of the land and flocks.

A naturalistic statuette

The ibex is a large caprid that lives in steep rocky areas. The statuette has been carefully made using the lost-wax technique over a clay core, which is still inside the piece. The pose of the wild beast, alert and ready to flee, is suggested by the head turned to the side. Two little tubes of bronze indicate the ears. The eyes were probably inlaid. Only the base of the horns remains, but an intact statuette in a private collection is very similar to one in the Louvre and shows that this one probably had long ringed horns. The artist depicted them realistically but exaggerated their size, deliberately underlining this trait, which is characteristic of the ibex. The search for naturalism brings the ibex statuette close to contemporary Greco-Roman art and opposes it to the geometrical stylization and archaic stiffness that characterized stone statuary of the period, which was probably more closely tied to local traditions. Despite the dynamism and suppleness of the animal's pose, its massive silhouette indicates that it was not a work imported from the Mediterranean coast but a piece produced in the workshop of a local bronze founder open to influences from the Hellenized west.

The offering of a worshipper

Tenons under the hooves indicate that the statuette was once attached to a pedestal that may have been made of different material - stone, for example. The pedestal may have borne a dedication indicating the name of the donor and perhaps the reason for his offering. These animal figurines that worshippers placed in the temples represented the god in the shape of its attribute animal, or more likely the sacrificial animal or its substitute.

The ibex associated with the god Almaqah

The ibex, one of the animals most often depicted in the art of ancient Yemen, is associated with the god Almaqah, one of the chief gods in the pantheon of the kingdom of Sheba. One of the large temples dedicated to him was called "the ibexes" and was decorated with friezes of ibexes. This mountain animal symbolized vigor and the vitality of wildlife. Ibexes were captured during ritual hunts to attract divine favor in order to ensure rainfall and the fertility of the land and flocks.

Technical description

  • Statuette of an ibex

    c. 1st century BC-1st century AD

    Southern Arabia

  • Bronze

    H. 0.15 ; W. 0.20

  • Purchased April 23, 2001

    AO 31571

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

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