The statue to the right is one fashioned of Gudea , King of Lagash , seated upon a throne. This artifact dates back to circa 2120 BCE and hails from Sumerian culture. Following a precedent set by rulers before him, Gudea had statues of his likeness placed in each of the temples to embody his prayer and devotion ["Seated statue of Gudea"]. The inscriptions, which cover his robes and the back part of the seat, are deeds performed in the names of the gods that he worshiped [Edzard, 52].
“Nonetheless, Gudea is not a “split personality”; rather the statue is an extension of his personality enabling Gudea to pray to his god so long as the statue stands” [“Personality and Portraiture in Ancient Art”, 261]. The personable features displayed on the statue were unheard of before Gudea; statues (for religion) were mere tokens. Made of diorite, the Statue’s rocky composition was imported via trade relations with neighboring states because such resources could not have been found within Lagash, let alone Sumer . The land of Magan comes across in reference to this material, but is measured only by points of distance from Lagash [“The Topography of the Gudea Inscriptions”, 46-47]. Diorite held religious significance which likely prompted Gudea to import such an expensive resource; however, it was clear that these imports were not tribute [Edzard, 26].
Excavations began at Tello in 1877 by the French vice-consul, Ernest de Sarzec [“Gudea, Patesi of Lagash”, 243]. Tello is situated in Iraq over what was then Girsu, a province within Lagash. Excavated by the French, it seems logical that most of the finds would be transported to France at the Louvre, where a collection resides today.
Local Historical Context
Ur-Bau and Gudea were at the forefront of the Neo-Sumerian Renaissance. For nearly 200 years, Sumer languished under Akkadian rule by Sargon and his predecessors, but a group of barbarians called the Guti overthrew these rulers, installing themselves over Mesopotamia. The Guti were unconcerned with the politics involved with empire, instead they exercised weak central authority by requiring tributes from the surrounding city-states. Possibly due to its statesmen’s capabilities, Lagash was less affected by this hindrance and began to retake some of its former glory as a metropolis of Sumer [“Gudea, Patesi of Lagash”, 243-244].
Under Gudea’s rule, an explosion of art and literature took place [“Seated statue of Gudea”]. Choosing to construct temples over palaces and give thanks to gods rather than record his feats and achievements, Gudea displayed the humility that was expected of his position [“Gudea, Patesi of Lagash”, 243]. The votive stone statues were examples of this; they were his representative before the gods in the temples [“Gudea, Patesi of Lagash”, 247]. Rulers were intermediates between the gods and people, stand-ins as it were. “The works produced by this Neo-Sumerian culture are pervaded by a sense of pious reserve and serenity” [“Seated statue of Gudea”].
Similar to other cultures, the statue is ceremonial in purpose. Most religions use physical idols to direct their energies towards. The inscriptions dotted along the statue offer an insight into an ancient belief system of Sumerian civilization [Edzard, 26; 52-53; 58].
Gudea breaks the trend of the deification of kings, and in addition, leaves behind a vast amount of artifacts and recorded history. In fact, the archaeological finds at Tello were the first proof of Lagash and Gudea’s existence. Only records were kept of past events related to the Northern Mesopotamia region, but whole of Mesopotamia is now fully documented [“Gudea, Patesi of Lagash”, 243].
Edzard, Dietz Otto. The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia Early Periods Volume 3.1: Gudea and His Dynasty. Canada: University of Toronto Press Incorporated, 1997. Nissen, Hans Jorg, and Heine, Peter. From Mesopotamia to Iraq: A Concise History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. http://ehis.ebscohost.com/eds/ebookviewer/ebook/nlebk_295308_AN?sid=566b9c07-2542-4487-b8e6-212673bb3fdf@sessionmgr112&vid=23&format=EB
Shepherd, Dorothy G. Gudea, Patesi of Lagash. Cleveland Museum of Art 50 (1963): 243-248. http://www.jstor.org.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/stable/25151968
Price, Ira Maurice. The Topography of the Gudea Inscriptions. Journal of the American Oriental Society 43 (1923): 41-48. http://www.jstor.org.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/stable/593296
Manfmann, George M. A. Personality and Portraiture in Ancient Art. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 117 (Aug. 15, 1973): 259-285. http://www.jstor.org.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/stable/986695
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Seated statue of Gudea". Last modified March 21, 2013. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/59.2
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