VESSEL IN THE FORM OF A RAM’S HEAD
Mesopotamian, Possibly from Mari, Syria
Mid-third millennium BC
Length: 7-1/8 inches (18.0 cm)
Width: 4-3/4 inches (12.1 cm)
Depth: 3-3/8 inches (8.5 cm)
Provenance: Private New York collection, 1981
Exhibitions: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999-2002, 2003-2006; Brooklyn Museum, 1984
Fashioned of beaten silver, this small vessel is modeled in the form of a ram’s head. A long, open spout extends from the top of the animal’s head and a tiny, pin-like strut braces the spout close to the head. Whether the spout was used as both a handle, making the vessel a ladle or dipper, as well as a spout, making it a libation vessel, is not known.
The animal is stylized with delicate curlicues of fleece, rendered in low relief on the forehead; pert, nubbin ears; herringbone-striated horns that emerge from the crown, flow behind the projecting ears, and project laterally; a tapered snout with tear-drop-shaped nostrils; and large, inlaid almond-shaped eyes with circular pupils (the proper right of which remains). The form of the inlaid eye is remarkably similar to that seen in some gypsum sculptures of human figures from the Mesopotamian site of Mari, suggesting a common origin.
Animals were a popular motif in Sumerian art, occurring as sculptures in their own right, as well as elements in reliefs on walls and vessels.
Pouring vessels and strainers of various materials – gold, silver, shell – demonstrate the antiquity and continuity of the type. A long-spouted gold strainer for beer or wine in the collection of the British Museum (ME 121347) was found at Ur and dates to 2600-2400 BC. A tiny shell ladle in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (36.2399) may have been used to administer small doses of medicinal potions or for rituals while a larger version in the collection of the Musée du Louvre (AO 15298) is one of many known and probably was utilitarian. The former has been dated to 2600-1900 BC; the latter to the mid-late 3rd millennium BC. Another Mesopotamian example, fashioned of silver and shaped like a shell, is in the collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (B 17081).
A gold bowl with rams decorating the surface in high relief, from Marlik, shows the endurance of the popularity of the ram: this object dates to the 13th-12th century BC.