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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Archive : Intercultural Style Chlorite Vase of the Jiroft Culture
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Intercultural Style Chlorite Vase of the Jiroft Culture - LO.618 W
Origin: Syria
Circa: 3000 BC to 2000 BC
Dimensions: 4.75" (12.1cm) high
Collection: Near Eastern
Medium: Chlorite


Location: Great Britain
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Description
The profile of this ovoid vessel features a flat bottom and a very short, off-set neck, reminding one somewhat of piriform pottery jars. Despite this seeming similarity, this vessel is of singular importance as a document for a more complete understanding of the iconography of one specific subject repeatedly represented on chlorite vessels of the Jiroft Culture. Its importance in this regard cannot be emphasized strongly enough.

The scene depicts a male figure facing left. His head is shown in profile and characterized by a large eye, as is to be expected, which is masterfully inlaid. His long hair falls to the level of his waist. His identification as a god or mythological figure, and not a mortal hero, is suggested not only by the horns of a bull which protrude from his wig but also by the appearance the ears of a bull beneath these horns. In keeping with the bovine design of this composite beast, his legs end in hooves rather than feet. This depiction is, therefore, one of the most complete of any representation of a minotaur, or bull-man known to date from the Jiroft Culture. In this context, the thin band of fine, vertical striations with curved top found across his lower abdomen is to be understood as distinguishing markings on his hide rather than as an article of clothing. He is shown in combat with two felines, perhaps to be regarded as lions, whom he engages by lifting their tails. The field to the extreme left and right of this scene is flanked by a figure of a scorpion aligned vertically within the composition.

The scene must represent a specific episode in the religious and mythological repertoire of the Jiroft Culture because the principal figure, the minotaur, is identified and singled out by the appearance of unmistakable inlays in his body, namely, the larger, red stone inlay in his thigh which is ornamented with three, triangularly arranged deep circles, and a somewhat smaller turquoise-green inlay in the center of his chest. There may have been inlays as well in each of his lower legs to judge from the regular circular depressions found there.

There is an exact parallel for this scene on two identical chlorite chalices, which repeat verbatim the design of this vessel. The minotaur on those chalices is depicted in exactly the same way to the point that his chest and thigh, on one of the chalices, are likewise inlaid in stones of the same color and same relative size to one another. And the identification of this figure on those chalices as a minotaur is confirmed on the basis of the figure on the vessel under discussion because the figures on those chalices lack both bull’s horns and ears. We are clearly dealing with a specific episode in the life of one of the great deities of the pantheon of the Jiroft Culture. The fact that one is dealing with the exact episode on vessels of two such different shapes strongly suggests that the subject matter was canonical and that the vases may have been used in a regulated ritual performed at specific intervals within the liturgical calendar of the Jiroft Culture.

Scholars are now inclined to identify the cultural horizon to which such works of art are assigned as the Jiroft Culture, after a located to the north of the Straights of Hormuz in the central, southern region of Iraq. The craftsmen preferred to work in chlorite, a stone which was locally available in abundance. Earlier scholars have regarded these works of art as examples of an inter-cultural style and it is true that the iconography of these vessels borrows heavily from the visual traditions of neighboring civilizations of the ancient Near East. That borrowing, however, is not slavish because the artisans of the Jiroft Culture have adapted the motifs to scenes which are unique to their culture.

Dr. Robert Steven Bianchi

References:

For a good summary of the Jiroft civilization, see now Dossiers d’Archéologie.Jiroft, Fabuleuse découverte en Iran (no. 287 [October 2003]), pages 36-37, nos. 12 and 11, for the exact same depiction on two chalices. - (LO.618 W)

 

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