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.
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Title:Kneeling bull holding a spouted vessel
Date:ca. 3100–2900 BCE
Dimensions: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
Acquired by the Museum in 1966, purchased from K. Rabenou Ltd., New York.
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“’A Seal Upon Thine Heart’: Glyptic Art of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3500–2100 B.C.,” The Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum, New York, January 7–April 26, 1998.
“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.
“Noah’s Beasts: Sculpted Animals from Ancient Mesopotamia,” Morgan Library & Museum, New York, May 26, 2017–August 27, 2017.
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Babcock, Sidney. 2017. Noah's Beasts: Sculpted Animals from Ancient Mesopotamia ca. 3300-2250 BC. New York: Morgan Library and Museum, pp. 4-5.
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