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Work Recumbent bull with man's head

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

Statuette of an androcephalous bull

© 1993 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Near Eastern Antiquities

Iselin Claire

Images of human-headed bulls are found throughout Mesopotamian history. Several statuettes dating from the late third millennium BC show a bearded creature wearing the divine horned headdress, lying down with its head turned to the side. They have been found at various Sumerian sites, the majority from Telloh.

The human-headed bull

The animal is shown lying, its head turned to the side and its tail underneath its right hoof. On its head is the divine headdress with three pairs of horns. It has a man's face with large elongated eyes, a beard covering half its cheeks and joining with the mustache before cascading down over its breast, where it ends in small curls, and long ringlets framing its face. The ears, however, are a bull's, though fleecy areas at the shoulders and hindquarters seem to suggest the animal is actually a bison. Another example in the Louvre displays particularly fine workmanship, the eyes and the whole body being enriched with decorative elements, applied or inlaid in trilobate and lozenge-shaped cavities (in the hooves). There is a small group of these recumbent bulls dating from the Neo-Sumerian period (around 2150-2000 BC), one of which is inscribed with the name of Gudea, the Second Dynasty ruler of Lagash. In the Neo-Assyrian period (9th-6th centuries BC), the human-headed bull, now with a pair of wings, becomes the guardian of the royal palace, flanking the doors through which visitors entered. This creature was a lamassu, a benevolent protective spirit generally associated with the sun-god Shamash.

A base for a vessel, or for a statue of a deity?

An elongated cavity of irregular shape in the middle of the back of this statuette, also found in other examples, might have been intended to hold a removable offering bowl, as illustrated in Mesopotamian iconography. The Louvre has a statuette of a dog from Telloh, inscribed with the name of Sumu-ilum, king of Larsa in the 19th century BC, which has a mortice in the back into which fits an unpolished tenon supporting a small oval cup. It may be that the statuette was subsequently adapted to this use. Relief depictions also show a seated deity (usually the sun-god Shamash) with his foot on the back of a similar hybrid creature, which might suggest that they served as bases for statuettes of gods. Another statuette of a recumbent human-headed bull has two horizontal perforations in the narrower forequarters, suggesting that these might have served to attach a small lid.

Steatite: a popular stone in the reign of Gudea

Steatite, the soft stone used for this statuette, was the material frequently chosen in the reign of Gudea to make precious objects connected with cultic rituals, such as libation vessels and offering dishes. Statuettes representing worshippers were also carved from this stone, generally depicting members of the royal family, such as the statuette of a woman with a scarf, or high-ranking dignitaries.


André-Salvini B., "Art of the first cities : The Third millenium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus", Exposition, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 8 mai-17 août 2003, p. 440, n 313.
Barrelet M., "Taureaux et symbolique solaire", in Revue d'Assyriologie et d'Archéologie orientale, 48, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1954, pp. 16-27.
Caubet A., "Exposition des quatre grandes civilisations mondiales : La Mésopotamie entre le Tigre et l'Euphrate", Exposition itinérante, Setagaya, Musée d'art de Setagaya, 5 août 2000-3 décembre 2000, Fukuoka, Musée d'art asiatique de Fukuokua, 16 décembre 2000- 4 mars 2001, Tokyo : NKH, 2000, n 120.
Heuzey L., "Le taureau chaldéen androcéphale et la sculpture à incrustations", Monuments Piot, VII, 1900-1901, pp. 7-11 et planche I.
Parrot A., Tello, vingt campagnes de fouilles (1877- 1933), Paris, Albin Michel, 1948, p. 146, fig. 12b.
Huot J.-L., "The Man-Faced Bull L. 76. 17 of Larsa", in Sumer, 34, Bagdad, State Organization of Antiquities and Heritage, 1978, pp. 106- 108, fig. a.
Spycket A., La statuaire du Proche-Orient ancien, Leyde, Brill, 1981, p. 220, n 184, pl. 147.

Technical description

  • Statuette of an androcephalous bull

    Neo-Sumerian period

  • Chlorite with inlays

    H. 12.10 cm; W. 14.90 cm; D. 8 cm

  • Acquired in 1898 , 1898

    AO 2752

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Mesopotamia, c. 2350–2000 BC
    Room 228
    Display case 4: Temple and tomb furniture

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