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Work Bull-shaped cosmetic flask

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Flacon à fard en forme de taureau

© Musée du Louvre/C. Larrieu

Near Eastern Antiquities

Benoit Agnès

Cosmetic flasks became so common in the trans-Elamite world in the late 3rd millennium BC that hundreds of them have survived. They were made of chlorite or arsenical copper, and the metal flasks were often shaped into animals. The study of the contents of these small items is in progress.


The most elaborate metal cosmetic flasks are shaped into complete animals that look like statuettes. Only the tubular bottle neck with its flared rim on the animal's back makes it clear that it was a container. The craftsmen showed a fondness for herbivores: rams, mouflons, camels, or bulls. Monkeys and snakes were also produced but are much rarer. Until quite recently, anthropomorphic vases seemed exceptional.
Note that on the few bull-shaped flasks found, the animal is almost always depicted in the same way: wearing a collar, which suggests it was a domestic animal, with a heavy dewlap and a long tail almost always attached to the right leg for some obscure reason.
These flask-statuettes are not completely hollow because the part used as a container was often quite small, as is the case with this bull.

The circulation of cosmetics in the Near East in the late 3rd millennium BC

Containers for cosmetic powders, ointments, and perhaps perfumes became very common in the trans-Elamite world and the Oxus civilization in the late 3rd millennium BC. Hundreds of specimens have survived. They are small because they were used for rare, precious products. Flasks made of chlorite, a soft green stone that was easy to work, are often square at the base with a quadrangular body and narrow neck, no doubt to protect the contents. The arsenical copper or silver flasks look like small bottles or take the shape of various animals. Whether they were made of chlorite or metal, the flasks seem to have contained the same products: dark powder for eye makeup and white lead powder for whitening the skin. These products were used by both men and women, because bottles and flasks have been found in male and female graves. A bulb-topped pin used to spread the cosmetic product was often found with the flasks, but not with this one.

Technical description

  • Flacon à fard en forme de taureau

  • Cuivre arsénié

    H. 75 cm; W. 9 cm

  • Don de la Société des Amis du Louvre, 2000 , 2000

    AO 31554

  • 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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