The Akkadian Empire collapsed after two centuries of rule, and during the succeeding fifty years, local kings ruled independent city-states in southern Mesopotamia. The city-state of Lagash produced a remarkable number of statues of its kings as well as Sumerian literary hymns and prayers under the rule of Gudea (ca. 2150–2125 B.C.) and his son Ur-Ningirsu (ca. 2125–2100 B.C.). Unlike the art of the Akkadian period, which was characterized by dynamic naturalism, the works produced by this Neo-Sumerian culture are pervaded by a sense of pious reserve and serenity.
This sculpture belongs to a series of diorite statues commissioned by Gudea, who devoted his energies to rebuilding the great temples of Lagash and installing statues of himself in them. Many inscribed with his name and divine dedications survive. Here, Gudea is depicted in the seated pose of a ruler before his subjects, his hands folded in a traditional gesture of greeting and prayer.
The Sumerian inscription on his robe reads as follows:
When Ningirsu, the mighty warrior of Enlil, had established a courtyard in the city for Ningišzida, son of Ninazu, the beloved one among the gods; when he had established for him irrigated plots(?) on the agricultural land; (and) when Gudea, ruler of Lagaš, the straightforward one, beloved by his (personal) god, had built the Eninnu, the White Thunderbird, and the..., his 'heptagon,' for Ningirsu, his lord, (then) for Nanše, the powerful lady, his lady, did he build the Sirara House, her mountain rising out of the waters. He (also) built the individual houses of (other) great gods of Lagaš. For Ningišzida, his (personal) god, he built his House of Girsu. Someone (in the future) whom Ningirsu, his god - as my god (addressed me) has (directly) addressed within the crowd, let him not, thereafter, be envious(?) with regard to the house of my (personal) god. Let him invoke its (the house's) name; let such a person be my friend, and let him (also) invoke my (own) name. (Gudea) fashioned a statue of himself. "Let the life of Gudea, who built the house, be long." - (this is how) he named (the statue) for his sake, and he brought it to him into (his) house.
This translation is derived from Edzard, Dietz-Otto. 1997. Gudea and his Dynasty. The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia, Early Periods Volume 3/1. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 57-58.
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Title:Statue of Gudea, named “Gudea, the man who built the temple, may his life be long”
Date:ca. 2090 BCE
Geography:Mesopotamia, probably from Girsu (modern Tello)
Dimensions:17 3/8 x 8 1/2 x 11 5/8 in. (44 x 21.5 x 29.5 cm)
Credit Line:Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1959
Reportedly found at Tello with other statues in 1924; [by 1930s, Feuardent Frères]; [by 1958, Elias S. David, New York]; acquired by the Museum in 1959, purchased from Elias S. David, New York.
“In the Presence of Kings: Royal Treasures from the Collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, April 19–September 4, 1967.
“Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 14, 1970–June 1, 1971.
“The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Selections from the Collection of the Ancient Near East Department,” MOA Museum of Art, Atami, Japan, The Aiche Prefectural Art Gallery, Nagoya, Japan, The Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan, 1983.
"Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus," The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, May 8–August 17, 2003.
“Mesopotamia: Civilization Begins,” Getty Villa, Los Angeles, April 21, 2021–August 16, 2021.
"The African Origin of Civilization," The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, December 14, 2021–ongoing.
“Mesopotamia: Great Cultural Innovations, Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art,” National Museum of Korea, Seoul, South Korea, July 22, 2022 – January 28, 2024.
Scheil, Vincent. 1930. "Nouvelles statues de Gudea." Revue d'Assyriologie 27 (4), pp. 163-164, pls. III, IV.
Mornand, Pierre. 1931. "Une Nouvelle Statue de Gudea." Beaux-Arts, March 1931, p. 26.
Woolley, C. Leonard. 1935. The Development of Sumerian Art. London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1935, pl. 61a,b.
Parrot, André. 1948. Tello: Vingt campagnes de fouilles (1877-1933). Paris: Albin Michel, p. 167, pl. XVIa.
Redmond, Roland L., and James J. Rorimer. 1959. "Review of the Year 1958-1959: Report of the President and of the Director." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 18 (2), Eighty-Ninth Annual Report of the Trustees for the Fiscal Year 1958-1959 (Oct., 1959), p. 34.
Crawford, Vaughn E. 1960. "The Third Millenium B.C." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 18 (8), Art of the Ancient Near East (Apr., 1960), p. 251, fig. 10.
Davidson, Marshall B., ed. 1962. The Horizon Book of Lost Worlds. New York: American Heritage Pub. Co., frontispiece and p. 149.
Glubock, Shirley. 1963. The Art of Lands in the Bible. New York: Atheneum, p. 47.
Crawford, Vaughn E. et al. 1966. Guide to the Ancient Near East Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 12, fig. 16.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1967. In the Presence of Kings: Royal Treasures from the Collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, exh. cat. New York, cover page.
Cheney, Sheldon. 1968. Sculpture of the World: A History. New York: Viking Press, p. 67.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1970. Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries, exh. cat. New York: Dutton, no. 5, p. 78.
Strommenger, Eva. 1971. "Gudea." Reallexikon der Assyriologie Band III, 9, p. 682, no. 6.
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.
Johansen, Flemming. 1978. Statues of Gudea: Ancient and Modern. Mesopotamia 6. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, pp. 24-25, p. 45, note 74, pls. 84-87.
Schlossman, Betty L. 1978-1979. "Portraiture in Mesopotamia in the Late Third and Early Second Millennium B.C., Part 1: The Late Third Millennium." Archiv für Orientforschung 26, pp. 59-60, fig. 4.
Hibbard, Howard. 1980. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Harper and Row, fig. 112, p. 53.
Detroit Institute of Arts. 1982. Gudea of Lagash, exh. cat. Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, p. 2, fig. 2.
Suter, Coral, and Marshall Croddy. 1983. Of Codes and Crowns: The Development of Law. Los Angeles: Constitutional Rights Foundation, p. 20.
Imai, Ayako. 1983. "Seated Statue of Gudea, Governor of Lagash." In The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Selections from the Collection of the Ancient Near East Department, exh. cat. Tokyo: Chunichi Shimbun, no. 4.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1983. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, edited by Kathleen Howard. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 53, fig. 20.
Harper, Prudence O. et al. 1984. "Ancient Near Eastern Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 41 (4), Spring 1984, p. 7, fig. 2.
Porter, Barbara A. 1984. Art of the Ancient Near East Permanent Galleries. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, fig. 4.
Pittman, Holly, in collaboration with Joan Aruz. 1987. Ancient Art in Miniature: Near Eastern Seals from the Collection of Martin and Sarah Cherkasky. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 25, fig. 13.
Braun-Holzinger, Eva Andrea. 1991. Mesopotamische Weihgaben der frühdynastischen bis altbabylonischen Zeit. Heidelberg: Heidelberger Orientverlag, p. 266, St 119.
Steible, Horst. 1991. Die neusumerischen Bau- und Weihinschriften, Teil I: Inschriften der II. Dynastie von Lagaš. Freiburger altorientalische Studien 9.1. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, pp. 237-9.
Edzard, Dietz-Otto. 1997. Gudea and his Dynasty. The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia, Early Periods Volume 3/1. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 57-58, Statue P.
Cifarelli, Megan. 1998. "Gesture and Alterity in the Art of Ashurnasirpal II of Assyria." The Art Bulletin 80 (2), p. 216, fig. 10.
Muscarella, Oscar W. 2003. "Seated statue of Gudea." 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. 305, pp. 428-429.
Muscarella, Oscar White. 2005. "Gudea or Not Gudea in New York and Detroit: Ancient or Modern?" Source: Notes in the History of Art 24, pp. 6-18, figs. 1a-b.
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Sonik, Karen. 2017. "Emotion and the Ancient Arts: Visualizing, Materializing, and Producing States of Being." In Visualizing Emotions in the Ancient Near East, edited by Sara Kipfer. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 285. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, p. 250, fig. 9.
Potts, Timothy and Ariane Thomas, eds. 2020. Mesopotamia: Civilization Begins, exh. cat. Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, p. 169, no. 108.
National Museum of Korea. 2022. Mesopotamia: Great Cultural Innovation, Selections from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 128, fig. 45.
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