In the world of the ancient Near East, images and beings that combined human and animal qualities were thought to possess supernatural powers. This small yet potent figure, with its human face and serpentine-scaled body, probably represents such a creature, enlivened and charged with magical efficacy whether propitious or demonic. The monstrous figure’s most enigmatic and distinctive features are the prominent scar across its face and the two holes pierced into its upper and lower lips. The scar may indicate that the figure was defaced, and the holes suggest that the lips may have been sealed, literally. Taken together, the scar and the sealed lips imply that the figure portrays a decommissioned being whose power is no longer operational. Having served its purpose, it may have been ritually muted and “killed.” The unusual form of composite construction used to create the figure, achieved by using tangs to join together several sections of differing materials and colors, further enhance its powerful effect. As is true of so many great works of art from the ancient Near East, the forcefulness of the rendering and the unsettling imagery work to make the figure appear much larger than its actual size.
The work was reportedly found in the early 1960’s with five similar works near Faza, 75 kilometers southeast of Shiraz in the province of Fars in Iran. According to Roman Ghirshman, who published the work in 1963, the work was once in the Azizbeghlou collection in Tehran, Iran, but was sold before 1963. In 1966, the work was exhibited at the Musée Rath in Geneva, Switzerland and the catalogue accompanying the exhibition noted that the work was in a private collection. The Metropolitan Museum believes, but does not have independent confirmation, that the private collection was that of Charles Gillet, who died in 1966, or his partner, Marion Schuster, both of Lausanne, Switzerland. Marion Schuster apparently inherited all or most of Charles Gillet’s collection upon his death. When Marion Schuster died, one of her daughters, Mathilde de Goldschmidt Rothschild, who lived in Europe, inherited the work. On July 10, 1989, the work was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in London, Antiquities from the Collection of the Late Madame Marion Schuster, Lausanne and by Descent the Property of Madame Mathilde de Goldschmidt Rothschild, as lot 59. In 1992, the work was sold by Robin Symes to Bodo Schöps, who, in 2004, transferred ownership to the Exartis Foundation. The Exartis Foundation then transferred ownership to Mrs. Hiroko Horiuchi who, in 2010, transferred ownership to Mr. Noriyoshi Horiuchi, from whom The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired the work.
“Trésors de l'Ancien Iran.” Musée Rath, Geneva, June 8, 1966–September 25, 1966.
Ghirshman, Roman. 1963. "Notes iraniennes XII. Statuettes archaïques du Fars (Iran)." Artibus Asiae 26 (2), no. 2, p. 152, figs. 4-5.
Musée d'art et d'histoire de Genève. 1966. Trésors de l'ancien Iran, exh. cat.: Musée Rath, Genève, 8 juin-25 septembre 1966, no. 26, p. 61, pl. 6.
Nagel, Wolfram. 1968. Frühe Plastik aus Sumer und Westmakkan. Berlin: Bruno Hessling, no. C, pp. 54-55, 58-59, pls. XVI, XVIII,1-2.
Sotheby’s. 1989. Antiquities from the Collection of the Late Madame Marion Schuster, Lausanne and by Descent the Property of Madame Mathilde de Goldschmidt Rothschild. 10 July 1989, London, lot 59.
Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 140 (July 1, 2009 - June 30, 2010), p. 13.
Benzel, Kim. 2010. "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2008-2010." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 68 (2), (Fall 2010), p. 4.