01. Global Prehistory, Art & Humanities, Teaching

A closer look at the Anthropomorphic Stele

A closer look at the Anthropomorphic Stele

I like to have students sketch the Anthropomorphic Stele before we discuss it because at first, the form is ambiguous but once they start sketching many students begin to realize it is a reductive human form. Although they cannot get scale from just looking at the image, let them know it is about 3 feet tall because the scale of an image can certainly affect analysis of function, which we will discuss later in the lecture. We discuss how the artist used simplified lines to suggest a human form and I may show a reductive 20th century piece (like a Brancusi sculpture) to show that everything in art history comes around again…in six thousand years or so. 🙂

Vocabulary words:

  • Anthropomorphic: having a human-like form (similar to parts of the Lamassu)
  • Stele: an upright stone monument with carvings

Next, we discuss archaeology and how that can help us to understand function. I can connect the funerary function of the Anthropomorphic Stele to the Grave Stele of Hegeso or the Kouros, both from Ancient Greece. Although the forms of all these pieces are certainly distinct, they are bound together by function. You can use function to analyze the predominance of the human figures as memorial or grave marker. I like to especially look at the Kouros and the Anthropomorphic Stele together because they both are masculine/war-like figures.

Read more: The Human Figure in Prehistoric Art

Also, keep in mind to explicitly tell your students that this image is before the rise of Islam (and Christianity for that matter). Some students may not realize where the rise of Islam is in the timeline of history (6th century CE) and get confused with the figural representation here when that is something orthodox Islamic art forbids. However, it is interesting to note that although there is a human figure, this stele is significantly abstracted, which is certainly something we see later in Middle Eastern Islamic art.


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