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Work Three-footed bowl with ibex

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Coupe tripode aux bouquetins

© 1991 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Near Eastern Antiquities


The use of bitumen as a sculpting material was an original feature of Susa, a large city in the Susian Plain, which was inhabited for period of six thousand years. In the early 2nd millennium BC, the city was very prosperous, as attested by the large villas belonging to land owners and the rich funerary furnishings found in sarcophagus tombs. The bitumen bowls that were deposited in these were considered luxury objects.

A form of sculpture proper to the city of Susa

Sculpture on bitumen was a typically Susian tradition. It appeared in the Uruk period, with the striking figure of a bird of prey on the watch, on view at the Louvre Museum. Toward the mid 3rd millennium, statues, bases for offerings, bas-reliefs and door strike plates were made in this black-colored hydrocarbon. In the early years of the following millennium, craftsmen began to produce bowls, decorating them with goats and bovids. The only container sculpted in bitumen found outside Susa comes from Choga Mish, in the Susian Plain. It features an ibex, as here, but sculpted on the handle.

A new approach to the material

Until very recently, it was thought that bitumen was a bitumen mastic made artificially from a viscous material, hydrocarbon, and ground calcite. To become hard and homogeneous enough to be sculpted, this mixture would have to be heated to 250 . Thanks to the discovery of solid bitumen in a rift in the Luristan region in the north-east of the Susian Plain, we can now identify the bitumen used by the Susian sculptors as a truly natural rock.

Three-footed basin with ibex

This three-footed bowl with ibex was found, like almost all the other bitumen bowls, in a sarcophagus tomb in the shape of an upturned, fluted bathtub on the Apadana mound, north of the city of Susa. These luxury objects therefore probably served a funerary purpose. They date from the Simashki dynasty, which came to power in the region in around 2000 BC.
Bowls with bitumen feet are rare; the most common form is that of a more or less deep basin. On the rim of the bowl six flat shell plates were fixed with gold-headed bronze nails; the sculptor was seeking to heighten the effect of the opposing black and white colors of the materials. The bowl stands on three added feet in the shape of ibex, a wild goat with long curved horns. The front of the animal is in executed in high relief while the back is in low relief, rising to fit inside the three sockets for the feet emerging from the base of the bowl. A pin was used to fix these elements in place. Executed separately, these elements constitute the finest part of the object. The backward-curving horns of the ibex form a kind of connecting arch, and impart both volume and lightness to the piece, probably the most refined of the whole series.


Amiet Pierre, Élam, Auvers-sur-Oise, Archée, 1966, n 210.
Deschesne Odile, The Royal City of Susa : Ancient Near Eastern Treasures in the Louvre, Exposition, New York, Metropolitan museum of art, 1992, n 63.
Connan Jacques, Deschesne Odile, Le Bitume à Suse : collection du musée du Louvre, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1996, n 221.
Benoit Agnès, Art et archéologie : les civilisations du Proche-Orient ancien, Paris, École du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2003, pp. 312-313.
Connan Jacques, Deschesne Odile, "Un Matériau énigmatique : le mastic de bitume de Suse", Techné, n 7, 1998, pp. 13-16.

Technical description

  • Coupe tripode aux bouquetins

  • Bitume, bronze, coquille, lapis lazuli

    H. : 17,50 cm. ; D. : 28 cm.

  • Fouilles R. de Mecquenem 1921, tell de l'Apadana, Parvis Central , 1921

    Sb 2737

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Iran and Bactria
    Room 305
    Vitrine 4 : Suse V : époque néo-sumérienne, dynastie de Shimashki et des Sukkalmah

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