02. Ancient Mediterranean Art & Humanities

#14. Statues of votive figures, from the Square Temple at Eshnunna (modern Tell Asmar, Iraq) Sumerian. c. 2700 BCE. Gypsum inlaid with shell and black limestone.

October 28, 2016

First off, I have kind of an unrelated College Board question on this piece: is that whole title really the title? Come on College Board! I am going to use a shortened title here because that is ridiculous. Statue of votive figures it is! I’ve begun to notice that I call a lot of art pieces “cute” which is probably not the most academic adjective I could use but come on! These guys are adorable!

Art Historical Background

These statutes were made as religious offerings in the temple, possibly representing humans. I hate to use the word “mass produced” because that makes people think of objects made in a factory but these votive figures are not unique singularly made items. The are made from a model and at Tell Asmar alone there was a cache of dozens of statues.
Their function as “worshippers” standing in constant prayer is clearly demonstrated in their form:

  • Enlarged eyes looking upwards (to the heavens)
  • Clasped hands in a common symbol of prayer or holding cups
  • Simple clothing that is not overly decorated and without heavy adornment
  • Cylindrical, geometric shapes that follows a formula
  • Each rests of a base
  • Small scale, they ranged from 1-3 feet


Some of these statues even contain an inscription of the individual donor or the god  (yay! writing!). Although some of the owners are identified, these were NOT intended to be portraits of the individuals. These statuettes functioned as a symbolic “stand-in” for the donor in worship, remember ziggurat temples were very restricted access in Mesopotamia. These objects were carefully interred under the floor of the temple after use and were found by archeologists in the 1930s in the same hole they were laid in!


Next Time: #15. Seated scribe. Saqqara, Egypt, Old Kingdom, Fourth Dynasty. c. 2620-2500 BCE. Painted limestone.

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