A SUMERIAN LIMESTONE BULL CUP
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A SUMERIAN LIMESTONE BULL CUP

LATE URUK/JEMDET NASR PERIOD, CIRCA 3100-2900 B.C.

Details
A SUMERIAN LIMESTONE BULL CUP
LATE URUK/JEMDET NASR PERIOD, CIRCA 3100-2900 B.C.
The conical vessel with flat base, the sides boldly modelled in raised relief with three bulls processing to the right, each with head frontally facing and with large down-turned horns, two bulls with ears of wheat or corn bent over behind their bodies, the groundline with row of diamond motifs between borders, remains of red pigment
2½ in. (6.3 cm.) high
Provenance
Charles Gilet collection (formed circa 1950s-60s), Switzerland.
Robin Symes, London.
Sotheby's London, 11 July 1983, lot 62; and Sotheby's New York, 2 December 1988, lot 36.
Exhibited
On loan to The Brooklyn Museum, 1990-1992.
Special notice

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Please note that the lots of Iranian origin are subject to U.S. trade restrictions which currently prohibit the import into the United States. Similar restrictions may apply in other countries.

Lot Essay

The site of Uruk (present-day Warka, biblical Erech) in Southern Mesopotamia lends its name to a period of about 500 years, approximately 3500-3000 B.C., which saw the flourishing of Sumerian civilization. (Jemdet Nasr is a term used by archaeologists to denote the cultural phase lasting from approximately 3000-2900 B.C., named after the distinctive pottery found at the site of Jemdet Nasr, between Baghdad and Babylon). Sumerian culture and civilization blossomed during the latter part of the 4th millennium B.C.; Southern Mesopotamia underwent sophisticated urbanisation and it was here that, along with such innovations as cylinder seals, relief sculpture and temple architecture, the astounding invention of writing took place. The beautiful vessel above was produced at this very time.

Uruk was dedicated to two great gods, An (or Anu) the sky god and Inanna, the goddess of love and procreation, better known under her Semitic name of Ishtar, whose vast temple complex E-Anna (the house of heaven) dominated the city. Stone vessels of this type - highly prized luxury goods made of imported stone and carved with great skill - dating to the late Uruk period were often found in temples or palaces. Bull cups are thought to have been made for ceremonial use in temples (the sacred herd motif of processing bulls is known from cups and cylinder seals of this period) and may be associated with fertility cults; Inanna's husband Dumuzi-Tammuz was closely associated with vegetation, flocks and cattle and the cult of the sacred marriage between them, with its associated rites designed to ensure productivity and fertility, originated at Uruk.

For a similar stone bowl decorated with bulls and ears of corn, cf. H. Frankfort, The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, London, 1963, p. 11, pl. 5b; "... here a bull with an ear of barley, four times repeated round the vase - which evokes the goddess or god. But the heads of the bulls project from the vase, they are almost worked in the round, and this device recurs on a number of sculptured stone vases". For a very similar example in the Louvre, cf. A. Caubet and M. Bernus-Taylor, The Louvre, Near Eastern Antiquities, Paris, 1991, p. 19, no. AO 21989. Also see, J. Aruz (ed.), Art of the First Cities, exhibition catalogue, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2003, p. 42, no. 12, for a stone bowl with bulls in relief in the Vorderasiatische Museum, Berlin, no. VA 10113; "The considerable work involved in creating stone vessels and the fact that the stone was imported gave them great value. While fragile ceramic vessels had to be continually replaced and therefore likely to reflect changes in taste ... stone vessels tended to be produced in a limited range of shapes and to be used for generations."

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