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mb1401

A Babylonian Bronze Nipple Beaker, ca 10th - 9th century BC

This superb bronze beaker from ancient western Iran dates to the 10th-9th century B.C. The beaker has a slender and cylindrical shape with gently curving concave sides and a tapering base that terminates in a “nipple”, a central knob on the bottom surrounded by eight petals of a rosette. It is because of this knob that Muscarella (1988, p. 245) suggested objects such as this be called a “nipple beaker” (German: Knopfbecher) instead of situla, as has been (and still is) customary; the term situla should only be used for buckets with handles.

The central field has a marvellous scene;  a pair of rearing mountain-goats with heads reversed and flanking a stylised “Tree of Life”, with a second bush between them on the reverse and flowers in the field. The anatomical rendering of the animals, their fur and the structure of the horns is beautifully detailed. The picture field is framed by a tongued frieze above and below; there is also an interlacing pattern (guilloche) around the rim.

For decorated beakers and the discussions concerning these, see Muscarella (1988), p. 244-248. For a close parallel to our beaker, compare British Museum, ibid no. 130905, together with similar examples from Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv.no. 1971.129, as well as Moorey (1971), p. 270 and pl. 81, no. 516 (Ashmolean Museum Oxford, inv.no. 1965.822, showing winged bulls), and especially Contenau (1947), p. 2172, fig. 1208, top right (a goat being hunted).

The curatorial comments from the British museum note:  ..." This beaker belongs to a type regularly reported on the art market to be from Luristan but although probably found in graves and other sites in that region (four fragments were excavated in the shrine at Dum Surkh and another was reportedly found in a cemetery at Zalu Ab, 30 km north-east of Kermanshah; cf. Schmidt, van Loon & Curvers 1989: 321-22, pls 190.f-g, 204.b-c), their iconography is closely related to representation on Babylonian kudurrus (boundary stones) and cylinder seals. They were therefore probably made in Babylonia, possibly in a single workshop, and date to about the 10th century BC. They are typically between about 12 and 16 cm. in height and decorated with scenes of banqueting, hunting, war or with antithetical pairs of genii or animals, sometimes flanking a central “Tree of Life”.

Although they are often called “situlae” this term is better retained for a distinct group of larger bucket-shaped containers with swinging handles, whereas these beakers were probably simply used as the equivalent of drinking-goblets; the capacity of the present beaker is equivalent to over four normal glasses of wine.".....

Literature: 

Georges Contenau, Manuel d'arche?ologie orientale, depuis les origines jusqu'a? l'e?poque d'Alexandre, vol. IV (Paris, Picard, 1947), 2167-2176;

Edith Porada, Alt-Iran. Die Kunst in vorislamischer Zeit (Kunst der Welt. Ihre geschichtlichen, soziologischen und religiösen Grundlagen) (Baden-Baden, Holle, 1962) p. 66 and illustration on p. 65 (left);

P.R.S. Moorey, Catalogue of the Ancient Persian Bronzes in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford, 1971), p. 270-272;

Simone Bourlard-Collin - Christopher Leon (éditeurs), Arts de l'ancien Iran (Marseille, Muse?e Bore?ly, 1975), p. 50, no. 155;

Oscar White Muscarella, Bronze and Iron. Ancient Near Eastern Artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1988), p. 244-248;

Wilfried Seipel (Hrsg.), 7000 Jahre persische Kunst. Meisterwerke aus dem Iranischen Nationalmuseum in Teheran. Eine Ausstellung des Kunsthistorischen Museums Wien und des Iranischen Nationalmuseums in Teheran; ; Kunsthistorisches Museum, 22. November 2000 bis 25. März 2001; Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 10. August 2001 bis 6. Januar 2002 (Mailand, Skira, 2001), p. 98 ff., esp. nos. 22-23.

Condition:   The vessel is intact and in superb condition with fine green/brown patination.

Dimensions:  Height:  7 inches

Provenance:  Private Virginia collection, acquired from the London trade in the mid 1960's.

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