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Work Model of a shrine

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Levant

Modèle architectural en forme de sanctuaire

© RMN (Musée du Louvre) / Christophe Chavan

Near Eastern Antiquities
Levant

Author(s):
Caubet Annie, Prévotat Arnaud

This architectural model represents a shrine with a single room, the cella or holy of holies; the doorway is flanked by two pillars that have been compared to Akin and Boaz, which flank the Temple of Jerusalem. This is one of a large number of models produced in the eastern Mediterranean beginning in the Chalcolithic Age in Palestine (ossuaries in the shape of huts) through to the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age.

A model of a building

This architectural model in terra-cotta was found in a ditch inside a private house on the site of northern Tell al-Farar, near Nabulus. Tell al-Farar was occupied intermittently from the Neolithic period to the Middle Ages. The object has been hand-shaped into a sort of box, upright on a flat base with a rounded ceiling behind a vertical facade. The facade has a rectangular opening surmounted by a high pediment that rises well above the alcove. The opening is framed by two applied fluted pillars with capitals decorated with centripetal volutes. A garland has been added to the pediment above a decoration of incised lines and dots. The threshold is also decorated with small vertical indentations.

From Palestine to the Mediterranean

This type of architectural model, with a highly developed pediment, is characteristic of Palestinian archaeology of the early Iron Age; many examples have been found, often in a domestic context. Generally speaking, terra-cotta architectural models are one of the constants of the material culture of the Eastern Mediterranean: they are found from Greece to the Euphrates and in Cyprus. Most date from the Late Bronze Age (14th-12th centuries BC) or the Early Iron Age, like this one, which is contemporary with the Israelite monarchy. The shape that these models take are the cella (as here), a rectangular house with a recessed upper story, or a square or circular tower.

Unsolved questions

These works raise many questions about their use, meaning, and relationship to real buildings, none of which have really been solved. As regards their use, any comparison with modern architects' models - meant to give an idea of the project before work begins - can be excluded from the start. But many of these models have been found inside houses, so they served some domestic purpose. Their shape and decoration give clues to their meaning: models like this one in the form of cellas or chapels refer to religious architecture. This architectural type is also found in models in Cyprus and Palestine. The models from the middle Eurphrates have an applied terra-cotta decoration that is highly symbolic: birds, snakes, and naked goddesses can be connected with beliefs in subterranean forces and sexuality. It seems reasonable to see these objects as instruments of worship or related to ritual practices that took place in the home. However their relationship to real buildings remains unclear. Even if it may not have been the aim of the craftsmen who made these objects, it seems likely that they modeled shapes that they saw in their daily lives, modified by their imagination and the constraints of the material. Excavations of Syro-Palestinian shrines from the end of the 2nd millennium and the beginning of the 1st millennium show that plans of the same type were widespread: an isolated building made of a cella (sometimes an ante cella) in turn preceded by a porch "in antis," whether or not the antas (lateral walls) had sacred pillars. The Tell al-Farah model is probably the type of shrine that the faithful kept in their houses.

Technical description

  • Modèle architectural en forme de sanctuaire

    Age du Fer II (vers le Xe siècle avant J.-C.)

    Tell el Far'ah, ancienne Tirsa (maison 149 a)

  • Terre cuite modelée

    H. 20.8 cm; W. 14 cm

  • Fouilles 1954 , 1954

    AO 21689

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Levant
    Room 303
    Vitrine 5 : L'âge du fer 1150 - 587 avant J.-C.

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