A Sumerian Limestone Bull Cup, Late Uruk/Jemdet Nasr Period, ca. 3100-2900 BCE
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Conical in form on a flat base, the sides boldly carved in raised relief with three bulls in a procession to the right, each with its head turned out, with large oval eyes, short downturned horns, an undulating border above the base.
This fragmentary bowl is decorated with a procession of bulls moving to the right, although only one complete animal survives. Typical of the Late Uruk and Jemdet Nasr periods, the body of the animal is carved in low relief while its head, turned to face the viewer, is fully three-dimensional. Such an extraordinary sculpture was developed at the end of the fourth millennium B.C., when cities emerged across Mesopotamia. Vessels of this type have been frequently found in palaces or religious structures, which suggests that they had a special function in such settings. After cylinder seals, they are the most important source of pictorial information for the period. The pictures are drawn from the natural realm, often portraying an ordered world of domesticated animals.
Background: Uruk was dedicated to two great gods, An (or Anu) the sky god and Inanna, the goddess of love and procreation, better known under her Semitic name of Ishtar, whose vast temple complex E-Anna (the house of heaven) dominated the city. Stone vessels of this type - highly prized luxury goods made of imported stone and carved with great skill - dating to the late Uruk period were often found in temples or palaces. Bull cups are thought to have been made for ceremonial use in temples (the sacred herd motif of processing bulls is known from cups and cylinder seals of this period) and may be associated with fertility cults; Inanna's husband Dumuzi-Tammuz was closely associated with vegetation, flocks and cattle and the cult of the sacred marriage between them, with its associated rites designed to ensure productivity and fertility, originated at Uruk.
For a similar stone bowl decorated with bulls see, J. Aruz (ed.), Art of the First Cities, exhibition catalogue, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2003, p. 42, no. 12, for a stone bowl with bulls in relief in the Vorderasiatische Museum, Berlin, no. VA 10113; "The considerable work involved in creating stone vessels and the fact that the stone was imported gave them great value. While fragile ceramic vessels had to be continually replaced and therefore likely to reflect changes in taste ... stone vessels tended to be produced in a limited range of shapes and to be used for generations."
Published: Concordia University, catalogue number: FOT-46.
Condition: Heavy loss to the upper rim of the cup, but one complete bull remains. Beautifully carved, in excellent condition.
Dimensions: Height: 7.98cm (3 1/8 inches) from the top of the bull head. Width: 2.54cm (1 inch) from the base of the cup.
Provenance: The Diniacopoulos Family Collection, prior to 1951. Vincent and Olga Diniacopoulos arrived in Montreal from Alexandria in 1951, bringing with them the largest private collection of antiquities known in Canada. These objects represent an array of cultures: prehistoric Mediterranean, Greek, Roman, Etruscan, Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Luvian, Syro-Palestinian, and Hittite. The family owned an art gallery on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal, Ars Classica, and continued to buy and sell artifacts until the death of Vincent in 1967. Towards the end of her life, Olga Diniacopoulos asked Concordia University to assist with the management of the antiquities collection. Some of the artifacts were acquired by Canadian institutions: statues from Thebes and a few Greek red-figure vases were acquired by the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Art Conservation program at Queen’s University acquired fragments of painted Greek pottery intended as teaching tools. The remainder of the collection was dispersed in the late 1990s through Sotheby’s (New York) and Fragments of Time (Boston). Thereafter, private collection of S. Bono, Chicago.