Kneeling bull holding a spouted vessel

ca. 3100–2900 B.C.
Southwestern Iran
6 7/16 x 2 1/2 x 4 1/4in. (16.3 x 6.3 x 10.8cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1966
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Soon after the political transformations of the Uruk period in southern Mesopotamia, similar innovations—including writing and cylinder seals, the mass production of standardized ceramics, and a figural art style—developed around the city of Susa in southwestern Iran, an area in which the predominant language was Elamite. While most of these innovations were adapted from Mesopotamian examples, they all took on distinctive Elamite characteristics in Iran.

    This small silver bull, clothed in a robe decorated with a stepped pattern and holding a spouted vessel, shows a curious blend of human and animal traits. The large neck meets distinctly human shoulders, which taper into arms that end in hooves. Representations of animals in human postures were common in Proto-Elamite art, possibly as symbols of natural forces but just as likely as protagonists in myths or fables. The function of this small masterpiece remains uncertain. Traces of cloth that were found affixed to the figure suggest that it was intentionally buried, perhaps as part of a ritual or ceremony.

  • Provenance

    Acquired by the Museum in 1966, purchased from K. Rabenou Ltd., New York.

  • References

    Hansen, Donald, Kate C. Lefferts, and S.M. Alexander. 1970. "A Proto-Elamite Silver Figurine in the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum Journal 3, pp. 5-26.

    Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1970. Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 3, p. 77.

    Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1972. Guide to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 46, fig. 9.

    Porada, Edith. 1975. "Iranische Kunst." In Der Alte Orient edited by Winfried Orthmann. Propyläen Kunstgeschichte, Vol. 14. Berlin: Propyläen, pp. 364, 377, pl. XXXIb.

    Behm-Blancke, Manfred R. 1979. Das Tierbild in der Altmesopotamischen Rundplastik: Eine Untersuchung zum Stilwandel des frühsumerischen Rundbildes. Baghdader Forschungen, Vol. I. Mainz am Rhein: Philip von Zabern, Tabelle 4.

    Pittman, Holly. 1979. "Figure of a recumbent mouflon." Notable Acquisitions 1975-1979, Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 9.

    Hibbard, Howard. 1980. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Harper and Row, pp. 50, 53, fig. 97.

    Amiet, Pierre. 1980. Art of the Ancient Near East. New York: H. N. Abrams, p. 358, ill. 245.

    Amiet, Pierre. 1981. "The Middle East." In Art in the Ancient World: A Handbook of Styles and Forms. New York: Rizzoli, no. 107, p. 43.

    Spycket, Agnès. 1981. La Statuaire du Proche-Orient Ancien. Leiden, Köln: E.J. Brill, pp. 44-45, pl. 34.

    Pittman, Holly. 1983. In The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Selections from the Collection of the Ancient Near East Department, exh. cat. Tokyo: Chunichi Shimbun, no. 33.

    Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1983. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, edited by Kathleen Howard. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 46, fig. 2.

    Harper, Prudence O. et al. 1984. "Ancient Near Eastern Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 41 (4), Spring 1984, p. 23, fig. 23.

    Porter, Barbara A. 1986. Art of the Ancient Near East: Permanent galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 11.

    Ferrier, Ronald W. 1989. The Arts of Persia. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 21.

    Harper, Prudence O., Joan Aruz, and Françoise Tallon, eds. 1992. The Royal City of Susa: Ancient Near Eastern Treasures in the Louvre, exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 4-5, fig. 5.

    Potts, Timothy. 1994. Mesopotamia and the East: An Archaeological and Historical Study of Foreign Relations ca. 3400-2000 B.C. Monograph (University of Oxford. Committee for Archaeology) 37. Oxford, pp. 160-161, fig. 23.

    Collon, Dominique. 1995. Ancient Near Eastern Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 58.

    Eisenberg, Jerome. 1998. "Glyptic Art of the Ancient Near East." Minerva 9 (3), p. 25, fig. 4.

    Pittman, Holly. 2003. "Kneeling bull holding a vessel." In Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus, exh. cat. edited by Joan Aruz, with Ronald Wallenfels. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 13, p. 43.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History