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Work Funerary portrait of a man, deposited in a vaulted tomb

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Funerary portraits of men placed in tombs in the form of burial vaults

© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Thierry Ollivier

Near Eastern Antiquities

Herbin Nancie

This funerary head, almost lifesize, is in unbaked clay. It was found in a grave in the "Royal City" of Susa, with other heads of the same type. It dates from the middle of the 2nd millennium. The visor-like arrangement of the hair over the forehead and male facial features are typical of Susa. This head is an illustration of a new form of funerary practice.

A lifesize head

This sculpture is one of a group of heads found in a tomb in the "Royal City" of Susa by Roland de Mecquenem in 1926. Dating from the 2nd millennium, it is the best preserved of the collection. Made in unbaked clay, it was probably modeled at the time of death. It is almost lifesize and is bent slightly toward the neck. The hair style connects it with the small bronze praying figures (Louvre Museum, sb2447) also dating from the Middle-Elamite period. The figure wears his hair in a similar fashion, arranged in a prominent visor over the forehead, with a beard covering the rounded chin. The parts representing facial hair were painted in black. The eyes were added, slanting toward the temples.

A new funerary practice peculiar to Susa

In the middle of the 2nd millennium, a new funerary practice emerged at Susa: certain deceased individuals were accompanied to the beyond with their portrait, as if to perpetuate their living image. This custom was observed principally in the vaulted tombs used for group burials. A prayer to a god responsible for watching over the deceased on their passage into the next world was sometimes inscribed on a tablet and placed in the tomb. The heads were probably modeled and painted in the likeness of the deceased person. The eyes received special treatment: large in proportion to the rest of the face, they were heightened with incrustations of terra-cotta or bitumen, sometimes the only remaining elements of these fragile portraits. This particular sculpture has admirably preserved the memory of an Elamite dignitary, whose beard and a hair style is in keeping with the local fashion.

Other funerary heads in the 1st millennium

Two women's heads and a mask of the same type dating from the middle of the 2nd millennium were found at Haft Tépé, a major town located between Susa and Choga Zambil in a workshop near the ziggurat. In the 1st millennium, the funerary material of the Susian tombs again contained unbaked clay heads, but of smaller dimensions and more often in the form of a rough model.


Borne interactive du département des Antiquités orientales.
La cité royale de Suse : trésors du Proche-Orient ancien au Louvre, édition française revue par Annie Caubet ; édition américaine sous la direction de Prudence O. Harper, Joan Aruz et Françoise Tallon, traduction de
The royal city of Susa : ancient Near Eastern treasures in the Louvre, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1994, cat. exp. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 17 novembre 1992-7 mars 1993, pp. 135-136 (texte sur les têtes funéraires).

Technical description

  • Funerary portraits of men placed in tombs in the form of burial vaults

    C. 1500 BC


  • Painted unbaked clay

  • R. de Mecquenem excavations, 1926: Sb 2836
    R. de Mecquenem excavations, 1924-28: Sb 5624

    Sb 2836, Sb 5624

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Iran, Susiana (Middle Elamite period)
    Room 304
    Display case 1: Male funerary portraits

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Additional information about the work

Photo RMN 93 CE18150