Beaker with Male Figures

  • Western Iran
  • 14th - 13th century B.C.
  • Electrum
  • H-13.3 D-6
Catalogue Entry

This slender-and now-fragmentary-beaker made of electrum (a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver) consists of two separate pieces: the flat base, with its thick ridge and band of elongated tongues or petals, is fitted inside a cylinder that forms the body of the vessel. The patterned band not only strengthens the cold joining of the two parts but also obscures the seam. The rim of the beaker was reinforced in antiquity by crimping the edge inward over a narrow gold strip to which an abbreviated petal pattern was added. On the sides of the vessel are three striding men separated from each other by sets of three rosettes arranged vertically. The bearded men have long wavy hair held together by a band or fillet and are wrapped in fringed and patterned mantles that cover their left shoulders and arms. Their full beards, rendered by oblique lines around the face, are tied with a small band at the tip. A knee-length kilt, a patterned sash whose end falls between the legs, and shoes or sandals with turned-up toes complete the garb. On the flat base of the beaker is a compass-drawn six-petaled rosette, its centering point still visible. Both the petals and the ground are decorated with punched circles similar to those on the mantles.

Flat-bottomed vessels with straight sides are known from northern and western Iran, and date to the second millennium B.C., although no excavated examples are as small and slender, nor made in the same fashion, as the present example. An elegant glass beaker-a Mesopotamian import at least three hundred years old when it was buried about 800 B.C. at the sack of Hasanlu in northwestern Iran-bears a similar composition.1 On the glass beaker four bearded men wrapped in patterned mantles and separated from each other by sets of three small crosses arranged vertically move in a static row to the viewer's right.2 Details of faces, hair, beards, and dress point up the Iranian origin of the Shumei electrum beaker and suggest its date. The large size of the heads and the crisp delineation of eyes, noses, and mouths, as well as the flowing lines of the beards, evoke the sober style of a pair of Elamite statuettes excavated from Susa and dated to the twelfth century B.C.3 However, on figural representations from southwestern Iran hair is carefully bound and arranged, as was the fashion in Mesopotamia. Long, free-flowing locks appear primarily on images from northwestern Iran dating from the late second into the early first millennium B.C., with the sites of Marlik and Hasanlu supplying numerous examples.4 Here, the small portion of hair combed forward and curling to touch the forehead is difficult to parallel; only the upswept forelock of a male figure on the Hasanlu gold bowl presents any similarities. Form-fitting mantles worn leaving one shoulder and arm bare are depicted primarily on objects made during the first half of the second millennium B.C. in southwestern Iran, but patterned circles and luxurious fringe appear more frequently as decoration toward the end of the millennium; the sumptuous garments shown on the bronze statue of the Elamite Queen Napirasu are the most monumental example.5

1. See Metropolitan Museum 1996, p. 29, fig. 1.
2. See Porada 1972, p. 172, fig. 8.
3. See Harper et al. 1992, pp. 146-48.
4. See Muscarella 1980, pp. 40-43, nos. 75, 79, 83-88; Negahban 1983, p. 82, no. 56; Winter 1989, p. 90, fig. 6, p. 93, fig. 13, p. 98, fig. 19.
5. See Amiet 1966; Harper et al. 1992, pp. 132-35; Kawami 1992, p. 10.