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Work Headless statue of Gudea, prince of Lagash

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

Gudea, Prince of Lagash
Statue dedicated to the god Ningirsu, called "Architect with Plans"

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Philippe Fuzeau

Near Eastern Antiquities

Iselin Claire, André-Salvini Béatrice

Gudea commissioned a large number of statues made of hard diorite showing himself standing or sitting in front of the gods of Lagash, whose temples he built or restored. This statue, known as "The architect with a plan," is consecrated to Ningirsu, the great god of the pantheon of the state of Lagash. It is remarkable in several respects and personifies the prince as the architect of his temple, Eninnu, which probably figures on the plan laid on his knees.

An extremely interesting monument

Gudea is shown life-sized, conventionally seated on a stool with splayed legs joined by two struts supporting the seat. The prince is barefooted, with his hands clasped together as a sign of deference to the god. He is dressed in a long princely cloak with fringed edges, draped over the left arm and tucked under the right, and ending in folds at the neck. Of the many statues dedicated by Gudea, this one is particularly interesting for the quality of the stone and the carving, as well as for the tablet engraved with architect's drawings laid on the prince's knees. The tablet also has a stylet and a graduated ruler. An inscription, unique in both length and content, covers almost the entire surface.

The temple-building prince

This statue shows the prince as the architect of the temple dedicated to the supreme god of the pantheon of the state of Lagash. Such personification recalls Ur-Nanshe, the prince of Lagash, who had already been portrayed carrying a hod of bricks on a perforated low relief, now in the Louvre, which dates from the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. The construction of Eninnu temple, consecrated to Ningirsu, was the main enterprise and concern of Gudea's reign. The plan on the tablet is shown in orthogonal projection and probably depicts the wall around Ningirsu's shrine. It follows the conventions of Mesopotamian clay and brick architecture: a thick wall reinforced with outer buttresses, pierced by gates fortified with redans, and flanked by towers. The walls surround an elongated, irregular space, devoid of buildings. On the short sides and the outer wall, small structures are placed in recesses.
The graduated ruler is damaged, but we can make out 16 sections, each with gradations from one to six separated by empty spaces.

A royal votive inscription

Gudea has left us the longest known inscriptions in Sumerian, exalting his piety towards the gods according to an ideal that is very different from the Akkadian militarism that had preceded him. The inscription is here divided into 368 compartments arranged in nine columns. It begins on the back and then extends round the sides, covering the entire seat and lower part of Gudea's robe. The text begins with a list of regular offerings made to the statue of Gudea, as for a cult figure. In fact, it is a "living statue," intended to replace the prince before his god for eternity and to transmit his messages, in particular the fact that the Eninnu was built according to divine rules and social laws. Gudea's titles, given after the list of offerings, reveal that all the gods of the pantheon of Lagash have conferred the principality on him, together with the qualities needed to shoulder this responsibility. The account of the construction of the Eninnu lists the foreign countries that supplied the materials, thus revealing the power of Lagash: cedars from Amanus, stones from northern Syria, and booty captured in Elam. Carved according to the rites, the statue is made of diorite, a stone regarded as a noble material, more durable than others, because it is harder to destroy. The statue is given a name and the right to speak, as well as a place on the esplanade of the temple of Ningirsu, under the god's eye. The inscription ends with a long curse on anyone who might try to desecrate it. Later princes took heed of these words, since the kings of the empire of Ur III honored the memory of Gudea with libations and offerings, as instructed on the statue.


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André-Salvini B., (notice), Extrait de : Art of the First Cities, Exposition Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, mai-août 2003, pp. 427-428, n 304.
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Winter I., The Body of the able ruler : Toward an understanding of the statues of Gudea, Extrait de : H. Behrens and al., Studies in honor of Ake W. Sjöberg,1989, pp. 573-584.

Technical description

  • Gudea, Prince of Lagash
    Statue dedicated to the god Ningirsu, called "Architect with Plans"

    C. 2120 BC

  • Diorite

    H. 93 cm; W. 41 cm; D. 61 cm

  • E. de Sarzec excavations, 1881 , 1881

    AO 2

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Mesopotamia, c. 2350–2000 BC
    Room 228

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