Ancient Near East, Mesopotamia, Kassite period, ca. 14th to 13th century BCE. Staring past the confine of time, a head depicting a haunting guise carved in soft white glazed faience with a petite nose and mouth that appears secondary to the large almond-shaped eyes. The hollow eyes, arching eyebrows, and grooved neck are all inlaid with chalky-white shell fragments, each component held in place with thin layers of jet-black bitumen. Each ear sports three perforations with one being filled with a miniscule ear spool. Someone likely sculpted this figure for religious reasons; the figures with large eyes would have been placed in temples atop ziggurats. The striking eyes are a dominant feature of this kind of sculpture, likely representing a state of ecstatic prayer, and would have contributed to the sanctity of the temple. Custom lucite display stand included. Size: 1.75" W x 2.125" H (4.4 cm x 5.4 cm); 3.5" H (8.9 cm) on included custom stand.
While the ancient Egyptians popularized the use of faience in their artistic creations, it was in fact the ancient Mesopotamians that created the substance. Faience and its wide use in ancient art was invented during the Ubaid period of early Mesopotamia (ca. 6000 to 3800 BCE) and was employed to fashion countless types of items including dishes and vessels, molded figures, and others. Tiles made of faience were used to line the walls of some architectural buildings and were painted with vibrant and expertly-designed embellishments. Over time, the ancient Mesopotamians developed religious and spiritual uses for faience, creating abstract anthropomorphic and zoomorphic representations of deities and other religious imagery to use for votive offerings and temple decorations.
Throughout much of the second millennium, faience expanded to be used for wearable jewelry, pendants, and smaller decorations made to resemble stylized anthropomorphic figures. However, according to Scottish Archaeologist Jane McIntosh, PhD, “pendants in the form of women’s faces, inlaid with bitumen or pieces of colored faience set in bitumen…were also popular throughout Mesopotamia” (McIntosh, Jane. Ancient Mesopotamia: New Perspectives. ABC-CLIO, 2005, p. 254). Though the popularization and perfection of faience may have proliferated throughout the time of Egyptian Dynasticism, it was the Mesopotamians who began utilizing such substances to create truly spectacular works of art.
Published in "Beloved by Time: Four Millennia of Ancient Art." Fortuna Fine Arts, Ltd., New York, 2000, p. 10, fig. 4.
For a strikingly similar example, please see The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 32.37: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/322601
For another very similar example, please see The British Museum, object reference number 1927,0527.224: https://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=369388&partId=1&images=true
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection
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Surface wear and abrasions commensurate with age as expected, small chips to brow, neckline, nose, and verso, losses to shell and bitumen inlays on eyebrows, eyes, and neck, with minor encrustations, and light discoloration. Smooth feel and bubbled verso likely a result of being exposed to elevated temperatures. Light earthen and mineral deposits throughout.