Composite Flat Idol
Period: Western Asian (Bactria), late 3rd millennium B.C.
Material: Steatite (chlorite?) and limestone
Dimensions: Height: 11.2 cm Length; 11.2 cm
Ex- N. Koutoulakis collection, Paris-Geneva, before 1970; ex- R. Atighehchi collection, France-London, acquired from N. Koutoulakis in 1972-1973.
The statuette is complete and in excellent condition. Small cracks on the body and neck; minor chips. Remains of sand in the incisions.
This statuette, which can be compared to the most beautiful Bactrian figures for its artistic and technical qualities, was carved from two stones of different color
It is composed of three elements: a) the triangular body, only a few centimeters thick, which is divided in two by a deep notch. Vertical and horizontal undulated lines are incised on both sides: they certainly indicate the details of the garment (skin, wool or other fabrics). An elliptic cavity was engraved to be used as a support for the base of the neck. b) the neck and the head, which are positioned perpendicular to the body and are very fi nely modeled; the eyes, apparently not indicated in this example, would have been painted. c) the hair – now attached to the head like a cap – is parted in the middle: thin, accurate and symmetrical incisions indicate the various locks.
Stylistically, this work certainly belongs to Bactrian sculpture, but typologically it has only very few parallels, whose size varies (similar to our example or about half its size). The meaning of the central notch or the absence of the torso and arms have not yet been explained.
These composite statuettes, which rarely exceed 15 to 18 cm high, form a class of unique items specific to the Bactrian civilization. Although no typological study has ever been undertaken, one can mention the existence of several distinct groups: 1) standing statuettes; 2) statuettes seated on a visible stool; 3) seated statuettes, with no stool indicated, hidden by the kaunakes: it is the largest group, which includes more stylized figurines; 4) statuettes seated on the fl oor, with bent knees; 5) statuettes with a flat, schematic and triangular body, without bust (our example belongs to this group).
Because few precise archaeological contexts are known for these objects, it is currently impossible to determine their purpose, but they would certainly all come from necropolises. Though their prototypes can generally be found in Iranian and Mesopotamian iconography, their meaning would have been different and linked to the funeral sphere, whether they would have represented a deity, a deceased (or an image of the deceased), a simple offering bearer, etc. Besides, the existence of several types of statuettes varying from one another would suggest that different fi gures would have been depicted with similar features or that they embodied different aspects of a same figure.
The parallels with Near Eastern objects and their distribution allow us to determine a chronological frame: archaeologists agree that these figurines would date to the late 3rd or to the very early 2nd millennium B.C. They are therefore contemporary to other famous artistic works produced by this important Western Asian culture from the Prehistoric age (silverware, metal tableware, seals, etc.).
AMIET P., L’âge des échanges inter-iraniens: 3500-1700 av. J.-C., Paris, 1986, p. 190 ff.
LIGABUE G. – SALVATORI S. (ed.), Bactria: An Ancient Oasis Civilisation from the Sands of Afghanistan, Venice, 1988, pp. 174- 177, 181-182.
On related flat statuettes, see:
BENOIT A., Princesses de Bactriane, Paris, 2010, p. 13, fi g. 19. Phoenix Ancient Art 2006 no. 2, Geneva – New York, 2006, no. 51.
POTTIER M.-H., Matériel funéraire de la Bactriane méridionale de l’Age du Bronze, Paris, 1984, pp. 44-46, 74-77, no. 303. In general on this culture and on composite figurines, see:
ARUZ J. (ed.), Art of the First Cities, The Third Millenium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus, New York, 2003, pp. 347-375.
WINKELMANN S., Le dee dell’altopiano iranico e della Battriana, in LIGABUE G. (ed.), Dea Madre, Milan, 2006, pp. 193 ff