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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Masterpieces : Neo-Sumerian Alabaster Bust of Gudea
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Neo-Sumerian Alabaster Bust of Gudea - X.0211
Origin: Mesopotamia
Circa: 2200 BC to 2100 BC
Dimensions: 12.5" (31.8cm) high x 9.5" (24.1cm) wide
Collection: Near Eastern
Medium: Alabaster


Location: Great Britain
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Description
This is a statue of Gudea, the ruler of Lagash, who reigned from 2140 to 2120 BC. He wears a stylized shepherd’s hat, the crown of a Sumerian king. Gudea was sipad zid, "the true shepherd". He was the model of piety and virtue, working tirelessly for the gods and for the welfare of his people. He was concerned about social justice, and not just the exercise of power. Gudea valued wisdom and learning, and the arts flourished during his reign. He was a man who loved peace, but he was also a pragmatic realist who could guide his people through perilous times, when warfare raged all around them (for a brief biography of Gudea, see http://sumerianshakespeare.com/67812/index.htm l). He was truly a great king, one of the first in world history. He was the kind of ruler that all modern leaders should try to emulate. There are other statues of Gudea, but they are rather formal and idealized, which was typical of royal portraits in the ancient world. The extraordinary thing about this statue is its uncompromising realism. It seems that the statue was created to show Gudea the way he actually looked in person, without abstraction and without idealization. This statue is a complex portrait of Gudea and not just a generic portrayal of his facial features. It shows us exactly what Gudea looked like. This is clearly the real face behind the other more idealized statues of Gudea. As such, it is ten times more valuable than all of the other statues of Gudea combined. The other statues resemble Gudea; they are "representative" of Gudea, but only this statue shows us what he really looked like. This is the true face of Gudea, when he was a living man and a reigning king. It is obviously modeled from life, with Gudea himself sitting for the portrait. The other statues of Gudea are very stylized. They show his nose as thin and straight and symmetrical. The nose on this statue is less refined; it’s wider, more irregularly shaped, like a real nose on a real person. This kind of “photo-realism” was also applied to the rest of the face. Every effort was made to accurately portray the exact contours of the face, the way the lips are set, and the shape of the chin. The other statues of Gudea show his upper lip with the curl in the middle that most people have. Notice how on this statue Gudea’s upper lip is straight along the top, and therefore more realistic and distinctive of Gudea. Notice too how the chin appears rather weak and recessive when viewed from the side. This kind of realism in a royal portrait is unprecedented. Other ancient kings showed their chin as larger than in real life, to symbolize their strength and resolution. Last but not least, notice the eyes, the eyes of a living person. They are slightly asymmetrical, like the eyes of most people, making the statue more realistic. They are also very lifelike. They do not have the blank uncomprehending gaze of many stone statues. It seems as though they can actually “see” what’s in front of them. In other words, the statue is looking at you, not the other way around. This is the hallmark of realistic portraiture in a sculptured face. His large almond-shaped eyes seem to peer out at us from the stone, filling us with a sense of serenity and inner calm. The exact rendering of the slight asymmetry of Gudea’s features is what makes this portrait so realistic. The absolute realism of the statue is seen in the fact that it looks slightly different depending on the angle from which it is viewed. Notice how his right profile is slightly different than his left profile. This is how most people appear in real life; very few people have features that are completely symmetrical. A slight tilt of the head also adds a natural look to the statue that isn't seen in other royal statues, ancient or modern. As a three dimensional sculpture, this statue is better than a modern photograph of Gudea. It shows us exactly what he looked like when he was a living man, more than 4,000 years ago, during the dawn of civilization. As such, this statue is the first realistic, recognizable portrait of a man (and a king) in all of human history. There was nothing comparable to it in ancient Greece, Egypt, or China. It is also an unparalleled artistic masterpiece. It's better than anything the Greeks could have created more than fifteen centuries later (they had a tendency to over idealize the human face). Not only is it lifelike, it is “living”. It’s a living portrait of a great man at the height of his powers. All of his character is written into his face. Take another look at the face of Gudea. Here you will see the serene and pious face of a priest, which is the usual interpretation of Gudea. More importantly, you will also see a hardheaded realist, one who was tough enough and shrewd enough to reign during difficult and dangerous times. It would be difficult to over-emphasize the importance of this statue. It’s not just a masterpiece of the Sumerian civilization; it is a masterpiece for all of humanity. It is literally the most important statue in the world today. It is the first realistic, recognizable portrait of a man in human history, and it's a king, and it's Gudea, the shepherd king that even modern people can relate to; not to mention the fact that it is an artistic masterpiece. The historic and artistic importance of this statue is beyond measure. It is one of the great treasures of humankind. - (X.0211)

 

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