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Statue of Gudea

Cleveland Museum of Art - Joy of Museums 13

Statue of Gudea

Gudea was the political and religious governor of Lagash, one of the oldest Sumerian cities in Ancient Mesopotamia. Gudea ruled between 2144 – 2124 BC and about twenty-seven statues of Gudea have been found. These 4,000-year-old statues show a very sophisticated level of craftsmanship for the time.

In addition, more than 2,400 inscriptions have been found that mention his name and describe his 20-year campaign of city improvements, which included new temples and irrigation canals. He was also a patron of the arts. Many statues of Gudea, both seated and standing, can be found in museums across the world.

Cleveland Museum of Art - Joy of Museums 12

Many of Gudea’s statues had their heads severed to destroy their ritual potency. This statue of Gudea with hands clasped is a common motif shared across many of the Gudea figures. The hands create a distinctive pose that repeats in both seated and standing versions, it is an expression of devotion, humility and piety.

The purpose of the statues was to represent the ruler in temples and to offer a constant prayer on his behalf. Most of the sculptures bear an inscribed dedication explaining to which god it was dedicated.

Why is Gudea famous?

Gudea’s commissioned many statues depicting himself with life-like realism, to be placed in temples throughout Sumer. He also funded many offerings to the temples with his name inscribed to highlight his generosity and piety. Other than Sargon (the first ruler of a Sumerian city-state empire), Gudea was one of the first rulers to claim divinity, and some of his achievements were later added to the Gilgamesh Epic. Unfortunately, after Gudea died, the influence of Lagash, the city-state he governed, declined until it suffered a military defeat. Was it these new conquerors who decapitated many of the statues or the idols of Gudea?

Reflections

  • What kind of ruler was this 4,000-year-old ruler governor?
  • With more, than 2,400 inscriptions mentioning his name, was Gudea an arrogant self-promoter or a benefactor?
  • Why were so many of his statues decapitated?

Exploring Mesopotamian Art

Statue of Gudea

  • Title:                      Statue of Gudea
  • Date:                     2143-2142 BC
  • Period:                  Neo-Sumerian
  • Find site:               Iraq, Girsu
  • Medium:               Dolerite
  • Dimensions          126 x 55 x 36 cm (49 9/16 x 21 5/8 x 14 1/8 in)
  • Museum:               Cleveland Museum of Art

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“You have power over your mind – not outside events.
Realize this, and you will find strength.”
– Marcus Aurelius

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Photo Credit: 1) GM