This statuette is representative of the Mari culture, based in the eponymous ancient city, one of the most prominent archaeological sites of the Syro-Mesopotamian world, dating back to the third millennium BC, and located in modern-day Syria. The custom of dedicating statuettes portraying worshippers to deities and placing them within temples dedicated to these deities was developed in Early Dynastic Mesopotamia, around 2900-2350 BC. The Mari culture’s prosperous cultural contacts with Early Dynastic Mesopotamia may have led to its adoption of this practice. Numerous parallel examples of stone heads and statuettes portraying worshippers have been found in the temples of the Sun-god Shamash and the goddess Ishtar at City II, Mari, testifying to the strong Early Dynastic Mesopotamian influence on the Mari civilisation’s religious life. These stone heads and statuettes were dedicated to the deities by worshippers, and they were believed to embody the very essence of the dedicators themselves so that their spirit would be present before the deity when their physical presence was not. This interpretation has been confirmed by many stone statuettes featuring cuneiform inscriptions stating that they represented the dedicators themselves in order to eternally serve the deities.
Syro-Mesopotamian Gypsum Head
An extremely fine Syro-Mesopotamian head of a male worshipper, sculpted out of veined gypsum, from the Mari culture. The head features a finely sculpted contour of the bony structure of the worshipper’s skull, reflecting the astonishing achievement in the Syro-Mesopotamian sculpting techniques of the third millennium B.C. There are three horizontal grooves at the back of the skull, depicting the folds of flesh at the back of the head. These may indicate the slight movement of his head, which he raises in a gesture of adoration, as a worshipper or a statuette dedicated to the deities. His almond-shaped eyes are deeply hollowed: two inlays with blue painted irises, probably made of shell, bitumen, or lapis lazuli, might have been placed here originally. The single double arching brow is also recessed, but it appears to be insufficiently deep for any embedded material. The statuette features a prominent pyramid-shaped nose, with hollowed nostrils. The lips were carved to be shown pressing together, divided by a thin and shallow groove that raises slightly at each end. His full beard, rendered in thick and straight strands, is outlined by deeply incised grooves. The ears were carefully portrayed with well-defined details of the inner contour.
Period: Early Dynastic III to the Akkadian Dynasty.
Provenance: Ex SM, Mayfair London collection 1970-99, thence by descent.
Condition: Very fine, mounted on a custom-made stand. The nose has partially chipped off. The measurements provided are including the stand.