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Work Bust of a praying figure statue from the Archaic Dynasties, reused in the Agade period

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Bust from a statue of a praying figure dating from the time of the Archaic dynasties and reused in the Agade period

© 1999 RMN / Galland

Near Eastern Antiquities

Herbin Nancie

The style and treatment of this praying figure connect it to the period of the Archaic Dynasties. However, Eshpum, governor of Susa and vassal to the Mesopotamian king of Akkad, Manishtusu (2275-2260 BC), was to reuse the statue several centuries later. It is dedicated to the Elamite goddess Narundi. Its eyes were inlaid with shell and lapis lazuli.

Statues that perpetuated the prayers of worshippers

This bust is related to the statues of praying figures that were made from 2700 BC onward in Mesopotamia. Worshippers would place this type of statue in temples in order to perpetuate their prayers. This piece obeys the usual criteria: the pose (despite the fragmentary state of the work, it is thought that the hands were joined); the style; and the treatment (a nude bust, incision of the spine, inlaid eyes). The eyes are emphasized with added materials (shell placed in a bitumen putty, possibly supplemented with a lapis lazuli pupil in the center), in keeping with a technique characteristic of this period. Some of these statues were anonymous; others featured a dedication bearing the name of the dedicator, according to a Mesopotamian tradition adopted in Susa. This bust is an example of the latter.

Reuse of an ancient sculpture

This sculpture bears an engraved inscription dating from the Akkadian period (2340-2200 BC). Eshpum, the governor of Elam and vassal to the king of Kish, Manishtusu (2275-2260 BC), acquired the centuries-old statue and dedicated it with the following inscription: "Manishtusu, king of Kish, Eshpum, his servant, to Narundi this offering made." Narundi or Narunte, an Elamite divinity, was the sister of the seven benevolent gods. Her triumph over the evil demons enabled her to become the goddess of Victory. She has been equated with the Mesopotamian goddess of War, Inanna-Ishtar. A group of much smaller statuettes accompanied this bust. The inscription, dedicated by one of Manishtusu's imperial officials, illustrates Mesopotamia's domination of Susa.

Inlaid elements for a more lifelike effect

The artists of Mesopotamia and Susa often used added materials to highlight the eyes and gaze of statues of gods, human beings and animals. This practice aimed to heighten the lifelikeness of these effigies. The pupil (perhaps in lapis lazuli) is missing. It was inserted into an iris made of shell that was secured in the eye socket with bitumen putty.


"Les quatre grandes civilisations mondiales : La Mésopotamie entre le Tigre et l'Euphrate" (Exposition itinérante). Setagaya, musée d'Art, 5 août-3 décembre 2000 ; Fukuoka, musée d'Art asiatique, 16 décembre2000-4 mars 2001, Tokyo, NHK, 2000, p. 217, fig. 106.
Borne interactive du Département des Antiquités orientales.
The Royal city of Susa, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 16 novembre 1992 - 7 mars 1993, New-York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992, pp. 86-87, ill. 53.

Technical description

  • Bust from a statue of a praying figure dating from the time of the Archaic dynasties and reused in the Agade period

  • Alabaster, shell, bitumen

  • J. de Morgan excavations

    Inscription en akkadien au nom d'Eshpum, gouverneur d'Elam au temps de Manishtusu, troisième roi d'Agadé

    Sb 82

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Iran and Susa during the 3rd millennium BC
    Room 231
    Display case 4: Exotic imports at Susa, 2600–1700 BC. Susa IVB (2340–2100 BC)

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Additional information about the work

Photo RMN no. 99CE19390