Mesopotamian alabaster ladle with ibex head on handle
Period: Middle of 3rd Millenium B.C.
Dimensions: Length: 20.60 cm - Diameter: 5.70 cm
Ex-S. L. Breitbart collection; Sothebv’s New York, June 20, 1990, lot 133; American private collection, 1990.
The object appears to be complete and in excellent condition; minor chips on the edge. Superficial concretions
This object, carved from a small cylindrical, long block of stone, is outstanding for its simple, though elegant and harmonious shape: it certainly served as a ladle to pour a liquid content in a small and limited quantity.
The handle is a thin, cylindrical stem ending with a special element, which shows the only ornamental pattern of the object: the small protome of an animal looking like a caprid, probably an ibex or a ram (?). The tapered muzzle is turned downwards; the eyes are pierced, certainly for suspension from a cord; the flat neck has a triangular outline and is furrowed by vertical incisions that would have indicated the horns. The bowl, small in capacity and probably intended for a liquid and precious content, has an almost hemispherical shape.
In the Near Eastern world, stone vessels were considered as luxury items and belonged to the members of the upper classes or to shrine treasures: according to the needs, they served as storage for valuable materials (ointments, liquids for ladies toiletry, etc., as well as for wheat, oils, etc., depending on the size of the vessel) or were used for rituals during various religious ceremonies.
According to ancient iconography (preserved mainly through Egyptian funerary paintings), it appears that the craftsmen started by carving and polishing the outside, and then hollowed the hard stone using a drill. These various operations were achieved by placing the vessel in a cavity of the ground or of the working table: our example might be unique because of its shape, which seems to have no parallel.
On stone vessels in the ancient Near East:
STOCKS D. A., Making Stone Vessels in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt in Antiquity, A Quarterly Review of Archaeology, 67, 1993, pp. 596-603.
ZETTLER R.L. et al., Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur, Philadelphia, 1998, pp. 148ff.
ZIEGLER C. (ed.), L’art égyptien au temps des pyramides, Paris, 1999, pp. 113-118.