Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Bull's head ornament for a lyre

Period:
Early Dynastic III
Date:
ca. 2600–2350 B.C.
Geography:
Mesopotamia
Culture:
Sumerian
Medium:
Bronze, inlaid with shell and lapis lazuli
Dimensions:
H. 5 1/4 x W. 4 1/8 in. (13.3 x 10.5 cm)
Classification:
Metalwork-Ornaments
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1947
Accession Number:
47.100.81
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 403
This bull’s head, an object most likely made for attachment to a lyre, was cast in one solid piece. Its skilled craftsmanship complements the rich materials used in its manufacture, including pupils inlaid with lapis lazuli imported from northeastern Afghanistan. Wavy ridges ending in curls delineate the bull’s beard, while the hair locks at the top of the head are perhaps worn smooth by long use. Above the eyes, stacked folds suggest wrinkled skin and highlight the expressiveness of the animal’s gaze. A ridge across the bull’s nose may represent a strap, indicating the animal is shown wearing a false, ceremonial beard.

Lyres with bovine heads of gold, silver, or bronze affixed to the front of the sound box have been found at several sites in Mesopotamia in contexts dating to the third millennium B.C. Most famous are the eight bull-headed lyres from six burials in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. Together with percussion and wind instruments, lyres were used to play royal and divine songs of praise, to accompany conquering armies, and for private amusement. It has been suggested that lyres with bull’s head attachments may have had a deep tone, in keeping with the low tones of bovine vocalizations.
1924, purchased by Joseph Brummer from Elias S. David; acquired by the Museum in 1947, purchased from the estate of Joseph Brummer, New York.

“Art of the Ancient Near East.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, March 4, 1949–September 5, 1949.

“Small Sculptures in Bronze,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 6, 1950–January 31, 1951.

“Summer Exhibition of Masterpieces from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Hofstra University, Long Island, New York, June 29, 1952–August 28, 1952.

“Art Treasures of the Metropolitan: A Selection from the European and Asiatic Collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 7, 1952–September 7, 1953.

“Al-Hiba: Expedition into the Past.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 16, 1972–January 21, 1973.

“Earth, Sea, Sky. Nature in Western Art: Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Museum of China, Beijing, October 6, 2012–January 4, 2013.

Wilkinson, Charles K. 1949. "The Art of the Ancient Near East." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 7, p. 191.

Louchheim, Aline B. 1949. “Near-Eastern Art Placed on Display: Metropolitan Shows Works that Date to 5,000 Years Ago.” The New York Times, p. 19.

Bowlin, Angela and Beatrice Farwell. 1950. "Small Sculptures in Bronze." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, p. 6.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1952. Art Treasures of the Metropolitan: A Selection from the European and Asiatic Collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. exh. cat. New York: Harry N. Abrams, p. 18, no. 3.

Liebling, Roslyn. 1978. Time Line of Culture in the Nile Valley and its Relationship to Other World Cultures. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Imai, Ayako. 1983. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Selections from the Collection of the Ancient Near East Department, exh. cat. Tokyo: Chunichi Shimbun, fig. 2.

Braun-Holzinger, Eva Andrea. 1984. "Figürliche Bronzen aus Mesopotamien." Prähistorische Bronzefunde, Abt. I, Band 4. Munich: C.H. Beck, pp. 32-33, no. 94.

Muscarella, Oscar W. 1988. Bronze and Iron: Ancient Near Eastern Artifacts in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 327-329, no. 465.

Graff, Sarah B. 2012. "Bull's Head Ornament for a Lyre." In Earth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, exh. cat. Tokyo: Yomiuri Shimbun, no. 37, pp. 93, 222.
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