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Work Vase decorated with bulls and horses in high relief

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Vase décoré de taureaux et de chevaux en haut-relief

© 2009 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
Herbin Nancie

This bronze vase is decorated with two friezes of animals whose forequarters are projected in high relief. The upper frieze shows reclining bulls, the lower frieze, horses. This type of decoration already existed in the Jemdet Nasr period and in the early 2nd millennium in the same region, on vases made of bitumen mastic. Another possible influence lies in northern Iran, at Marlik, where pots made of precious metal were crafted in similar fashion.

A decoration of horses and bulls

The decoration of this cylindrical bronze vase is composed of two levels: on the lower level, a frieze of four walking horses, on the upper level a frieze of four reclining bulls. The bulls lie facing left, their tails pulled up over their backs. Their bodies are shown in profile, with their heads turned to the right. The four horses, with short, thick manes, harnessed and with a little bell around their necks, walk in the opposite direction, from left to right. The heads and necks of these eight animals are in high relief and sculpted using the repoussé technique. At the top and bottom of the vase is a cable motif, also executed in repoussé.

Earlier examples dating from the early second millennium

The first vases decorated with animal friezes in high relief were made in the Jemet Nasr period (ca 3000 BC) in Mesopotamia, notably in Uruk. In Elam, a number of items of ancient tableware (early 2nd millennium) also feature animals sculpted in more or less high relief, depending on the part of the body represented. This is particularly the case of certain vases in bitumen mastic, several specimens of which are in the Louvre Museum, including a mouflon-shaped bowl (sb2740). This vase is decorated in similar fashion, with three mouflons. Two of the sheep's heads are sculpted in high relief, the rest of their bodies in low relief.

Technical and pictorial elements found in works from Marlik

This vase can also be compared to objects made in northern Iran in the same period. It may have been imported, or based on a model peculiar to this region. The decoration of the vase, in particular, is of similar workmanship to that of gold and silver vessels from the Marlik region, notably a gold pot decorated with winged bulls with heads and necks in high relief (Tehran, Iran Bastan Museum). Moreover, the presence of horses introduces a new element in relation to bulls, which stemmed from a more ancient tradition. Horses were highly prized in this region on the shores of the Caspian Sea, near Mount Elburz. The individual grave of a horse has even been found. This vase is thus an illustration of the important place horses began to hold in the second half of the 2nd millennium.

Bibliography

Amiet Pierre, Élam, Auvers-sur-Oise, Archée, 1966, p. 473, fig. 356 A-B.
Benoit Agnès, Art et archéologie : les civilisations du Proche-Orient ancien, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, coll. "Manuels de l'École du Louvre", 2003, p. 364, fig. 183 A-B (Notice sur un des gobelets de Marlik).

Technical description

  • Vase décoré de taureaux et de chevaux en haut-relief

    Suse

  • Bronze

    H. 11.30 cm; W. 15.10 cm; Diam. 8.40 cm

  • Fouilles J. de Morgan

    Sb 2825

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Iran, Susiana (Middle Elamite period)
    Room 304
    Vitrine 6 : Suse. Objets d'époque médio-élamite de provenance divers (XIVe siècle avant J.-C.)

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Additional information about the work

Ekta RMN 94CE 53562Sb 2740 : Ekta RMN 99CE19431