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Work Statuette of a Praying Figure

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Statuette of a praying figure, called "Cubist praying figure"

© 1997 RMN / Béatrice Hatala / Konstantinos Ignatiadis

Near Eastern Antiquities

Herbin Nancie

Figures at prayer form one of the great themes of Susan sculpture of the Early Dynastic Period II. Placed in temples, their function was to stand in perpetual prayer on behalf of the worshipper. The geometrical treatment of this statuette, of c.2700 BC, is typical of Elamite work, while also showing a strong Sumerian influence.

A characteristic theme of the Protodynastic Period

Standing in an attitude of prayer, with hands joined together against the chest, this small hieratic figure reflects the ideal of piety that informed the sculpture of the Early Dynastic Period II. The purpose of such statues was to represent the donor in perpetual prayer at places of worship. In order to pay continuous homage to their god, it became common practice among worshippers at temples to dedicate carved scenes commemorating banquets, or statues of themselves with their hands joined in prayer, or holding a goblet as though a guest at a banquet.

A geometrical stylization specific to Susa

This statuette is treated in a geometrical manner: the body could be fitted into a rectangle, with a broad, well-defined torso, tubular limbs, pointed elbows and schematically rendered hands. This "Cubist" manner is typical of Susan statuary, and betrays clear signs of archaism.
The head is pressed down into the shoulders, and the simplified, highly angular, straight-nosed face is triangular in shape. The eyebrow arches are deeply cut, as are the outlines of the eyes. The hairstyle is represented by an elaborate grid pattern falling down the back. At the sides it falls in crudely formed, overlapping locks which hide the ears. This type of treatment of the hair is rare in Susan art of this period.

A traditional garment worn in an unusual way

The man wears a kaunakes of sheep's wool, similar to that worn by Mesopotamian praying figures of the same period and made up of horizontal rows of woolly tufts that hang vertically. The garment covers the left arm and shoulder, leaving the right side uncovered and revealing the skin and the breast. This way of wearing the kaunakes was generally associated with women, but from 2450 BC it also became characteristic of royal dress.


Amiet Pierre, Elam, Auvers-sur-Oise, Archée, 1966, p. 180, n 132.

Technical description

  • Statuette of a praying figure, called "Cubist praying figure"

  • Alabaster

  • J. de Morgan excavations 1908 , 1908

    Sb 77

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Iran and Susa during the 3rd millennium BC
    Room 231
    Display case 1: Temple furniture. Susa IVA (2700–2340 BC). A tell (mound) on the Acropolis

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