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Seated Gudea holding Temple Plan

Seated Gudea holding temple plan, known as "Architect with Plan," c. 2100 B.C.E. (Neo-Sumerian/Ur III period), from Girsu (modern Telloh, Iraq), diorite, 93 x 41 x 61 cm (Musée du Louvre, Paris). Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano music) - [Beth] We're standing in a remarkable room in the Louvre filled with diorite sculptures of Gudea, ruler of Lagash. These sculptures are 4,000 years old. - [Steven] And some of them are life-sized. Some are standing, some are seated but one of the most remarkable is a seated figure that unfortunately has lost it's head and part of it's knee and one of it's thumbs but he is exceptional because he holds on his lap a tablet that has inscribed in it the plan of a temple. - [Beth] Now Gudea was the prince or governor of Lagash. This is a city state in the area of Southern Mesopotamia, in an area we call Sumer. And this period is known as the 3rd Dynasty of Ur or the Neo-Sumerian period. - [Steven] So this comes after the earlier Period of Ur when the Sumerians had been in control of Southern Mesopotamia. - [Beth] Known as the Sumerian Dynastic Period. - [Steven] That was interrupted when the Akkadians, a militaristic culture, took control. But the Akkadians were destabilized when they were attacked by a people from the mountains which allowed for the Sumerians to reassert themselves and that's the period we're looking at here. - [Beth] And Gudea built or re-built many temples clearly concerned about demonstrating his piety. - [Steven] And we know that from inscriptions, including the inscriptions on this particular sculpture, you can see cuneiform on his skirt, on the chair, and all the way across his back. - [Beth] The inscription tells us that it was important to Gudea that this statue be erected of diorite, this incredibly hard stone. - [Steven] Most stone is not available in the flood plain between the Tigris and the Euphrates in Mesopotamia. Stone had to be imported - [Beth] And diorite being such a hard stone to carve but one that's incredibly durable, and Gudea tells us in the inscription for this statue, nobody was to use silver or lapis lazuli, neither should copper or tin or bronze be a working material. It is exclusively of diorite. He's comparing this to materials that are very colorful, that are shining clearly preferring this very dark stone perhaps as a sign of his humility. - [Steven] Well his hands are clasped in all of these images. His feet are together and there is a real sense of quiet dignity. - [Beth] These sculptures were erected in temples and in a way, took the place of Gudea before the gods continually offering prayer. - [Steven] So we have this man, Gudea and he's known for building a series of temples including a Temple to Ningersu, in the city of Gersu, in Lagash. - [Beth] Ningirsu is a primary deity of the Sumerians. The building of this temple, that's apparently very important to Gudea and is perhaps one reason why he's represented with this plan on his lap. - [Steven] The plan shows we think, the walls that would have surrounded the inner shrine within the larger temple complex, walls with fortifications with towers with entrances. We can even make out small buildings on the outside of the walls in between the buttresses. In addition to the plan, we see two other objects on his lap. There's a stylus which would have been used to inscribe the plan that we're seeing and there's also a tool that's in not very good condition but we can still make out that's a tool for measurement and we can see inscribed on it regular graduations. - [Beth] Everything about the sculpture is designed to last for eternity. There are no projecting parts, the arms are close to the body, there's stone between the arms and the torso, there's no openings or gaps surround the chair that he sits on or between his feet and the base. - [Steven] And in that way at least, it may remind us of the sculpture that's being produced in Ancient Egypt at this time. - [Beth] Gudea's always shown barefoot and we do have heads here in the gallery where he's shown typically wearing a hat that maybe made out of wool or fur but it's very different from the kinds of crowns worn by the earlier Akkadian rulers. - [Steven] And the face is clean-shaven in contrast with the elaborate beards of the Akkadians. - [Beth] These are not really portraits of Gudea. This is a kind of idealized image of Gudea. - [Steven] And we see that not only in the beauty of the shape of the face but also in the emphasis on the musculature. This is usually understood as an expression of the favor of the gods. - [Beth] There's a smaller sculpture here made out a lighter color of diorite where the figure is much more intact and he's interestingly holding a jar from which water spouts in streams in two directions. - [Steven] And even fish play in those streams. - [Beth] And this an indication of the bounty of Gudea's frame for his people. And that's assured by his piety toward the gods. - [Steven] In all of these sculptures, the face is wide-eyed and the eyes are framed by this wonderful arching eyebrows. Everything about this speaks to a kind of piety, a kind of simplicity, a kind of reverence. (piano music)