Mesopotamian Plaque with a Figure of a Woman in Relief
This striking high-relief plaque depicts a woman with her hands folded across her abdomen. Her facial features are boldly delineated with rimmed eyes, a retrousse nose and a small mouth. Her torso and arms are boldly modelled and stand proud of the surface, while her long tunic is folded about her midriff and is relief-decorated with hatched stripes. This piece – which would have been part of a larger relief, or perhaps a highly ornate vase – would originally have been brightly painted with organic and mineral pigments; other, larger examples are often inlaid with dark and light stone chips in order to add sculptural emphasis. The pose of the figure became very popular in later renderings of deities and regnants, although kings were also viewed as gods so the boundaries between them are blurred. It is uncertain whether she is intended to represent a similar role or – as implied her curvaceous form and emotive features – a high-ranking ladies’ maid or similar, as evidenced by contemporary seal engravings showing early Mesopotamian society. She would certainly seem to be of some status, to judge from her ornate earrings, hairstyle and attire. The quality of the modelling is excellent, and on the trajectory from Neolithic the semi-abstract fertility figurines of the Neolithic period and the highly mannered sculptural values of the second and 1st millennium BC. The piece would have served a commemorative function, to be displayed publically by literally being nailed to a mud-brick wall; this would explain the breakage and damage. Alternatively it may have served a more personalised role, to a person of considerable rank.