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Work Statuettes of little dogs wearing a hatched collar

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Petits chiens portant un collier hachuré

© 2005 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
Kalensky Patricia

These two little silver dogs are quite exceptional pieces. Indeed, although dogs are often represented in Iranian or Mesopotamian art, objects of this type - probably ornaments of dress - are rare. They testify to the high technical skill achieved by goldsmiths of the region termed trans-Elamite. Their work can be defined by its outstanding use of precious materials and color combinations, as well as by its remarkable treatment of animal figures as plastic forms.

A testimony to the work of silversmiths

These two little dog figures come from Bactria, a region situated between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, defined as trans-Elamite by Pierre Amiet. The historian was referring to the production in the late 3rd and early 2nd millennia BC of objects that are similar to those found in Iran in the same period, but whose beauty is enhanced by the use of more precious materials and by more lavish decoration. Silver was frequently employed by Oriental goldsmiths, yet few examples of silver pieces still exist because these objects were seldom kept. This precious metal was particularly popular in Bactria. There are many fine examples of dress ornaments, miniature trumpets, vases with repoussé decoration, and compartmented seals from this area.

A trans-Elamite dress ornament

The region of Bactria had a strong tradition of decoration using animal figures. Wild animals (birds of prey, monkeys, camels, and wild boars) and fantastic beasts (dragons) were represented on arms, tools, vases, and dress ornaments.
These two little dogs, barely four centimeters long, are pierced vertically. It is possible that a thread was passed through the hole to hang them on a necklace, for instance, or - more probably - these elements were attached to a metal stem and used as pinheads or the tops of decorative staffs. The motif selected is, however, exceptional for this kind of object.
These pieces may be compared to a similar animal figure made of copper and surmounted with a silver ring to be worn as a pendant, which was found along with other ornaments in a tomb at Tepe Hissar, a site southeast of the Caspian Sea. Like this piece, the dogs would therefore seem to be works produced in the Outer Iran region of influence.

A domestic animal

Dogs were domesticated very early and there are many ancient representations of them. Figures of wild dogs animate decorative friezes on vases from Susa dating from the 4th millennium BC. On this site, however, were also found two pendants - one in gold, the other in silver - dating from the late 4th millennium BC and shaped like two small dogs that are apparently domesticated. Indeed, around their neck they wear a hatched collar, just like the two Bactrian figures. Dogs as domestic animals also appear on Mesopotamian objects: for instance, on a terra-cotta plaquette from the early 2nd millennium BC or in the form of statuettes. On the other hand, the trans-Elamite civilization - Bactria in particular - has left few representations of this canine companion, preferring the image of a more slender type of dog, either shown running in hunting scenes or watching a flock.
The two silver figurines depict in all likelihood another race of dog: smaller, squatter, with a flat, cylindrical muzzle, and plump hindquarters. They have long, rolled up tails, used bizarrely here as stands so that the hind feet do not rest on the ground. The tiny animal from Tepe Hissar most probably belongs to the same species.

Bibliography

Amiet Pierre, Antiquities of Bactria and outer Iran in the Louvre collection, in Bactria, an ancient oasis Civilization from the sands of Afghanistan, Erizzo, 1988, p. 173 et 175 ; fig. d et e.

Technical description

  • Petits chiens portant un collier hachuré

  • Argent

  • Acquisition, 1983

    AO 28057 ; AO 28058

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Iran and Bactria
    Room 9
    Vitrine 3 : Bactriane fin du IIIe millénaire, début du IIe millénaire avant J.-C.

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