6. Sumerian Temple Figures

The main types of sculpture in the round during this time period were for religious reasons. Sculpture was made for a purpose. The most prevalent are wonderful sculptures with big eyes. These were placed in the high temple on top of the ziggurat. According to many of the archeologists who have studied the Sumerian sculpture these statues were given to the temple to pray for the person who donated them. When the temple was rebuilt the figures were buried with in the Ziggurat.

So lets take a look.

When you look at each statue, you can see that there seems to be some rules for making the sculpture and at the same time a lot of variation. The sculpture was made from a solid block. It is the big eyes that gives the figure such appeal.

Why did the sculpture create the eyes so large? Why are the eyes usually looking up to something?


This gives us another opportunity to see the variation between the sculptures. You see the differences between the faces and the clothing. Some eyes are outlined and those without anything but white for the eyes have most likely lost the color that was inserted when the sculpture was new. We get used to the idea that ancient sculpture was always white. That is not necessarily so. Time is not kind to ancient art. The eyes have lost their glitter over time. We react to what we see and make judgments as we go along. In this case you can, in your minds eye add blue for the eyes and black for the eye brow and around the eye.


This temple sculpture is in good shape to inform us of the rules the artist followed in this time period. Eyes, Eye brows and hair are as the sculpture was meant to be.

This worshiper is in good condition.

What is the sculpture made of?

I would have thought of clay with something baked over it. Not so! These statues were made of a substance called gypsum. Gypsum comes in many forms and we know it as the white stuff used to set a broken arm or as sheet rock for creating walls in houses. Another form of gypsum is called alabaster. It seems to be fairly easy to carve. I might try it some time.


Looking at this little lady we can see that she is made from a solid form and the artist scraped gypsum away from a central core to create her arms and drapery.

If you look carefully you can see that there is some blue in her eye.


This chap seems to have lost his hair and beard, but has kept his feet and the ground to stand on. The sheep’s wool skirt would have kept him warm in the winter.


Not only are the blue eyes very noticeable but his clothes look like the clothes on the figures we saw on the Royal Standard of Ur. Sheep skin with all the wool comes to mind. That upward gaze makes me wonder what he sees.


And a couple and they are intact.

As you become fluent in art history you will notice things that don’t seem to fit easily.


There are a number of things that we can think about with these two. One author assigns the word of Priest to them.

Why do the men have no clothes on?

Was there a need for the priest to become naked before god to show that he was pure? I truly do not know.


What a wonderful eye brow.


Some of the worshipers got to sit.


Personally this man seems particularly intense.

Is he scared of the after life?