When Writing Met Art: From Symbol to Story

By Denise Schmandt-Besserat | Go to book overview

SIX
Votive and Dedicatory Inscriptions

Men, as many as are given names,
their (funerary) statues have been fashioned since days of old,
and stationed in chapels in the temples of the gods:
how their names are pronounced will never be forgotten!

— THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH1

ART PROVED TO be fertile ground for the emancipation of writing. Following or overlapping with the Ur inscribed funerary artifacts, a variety of votive objects, among them stone bowls, boulders, beads, and statues,2 brought writing to emulate the syntax of speech. Building simple sentences with subjects, verbs, and complements paved the way for writing to evolve into a flexible medium of communication able to express all possible ideas. In this chapter I will focus on representative inscriptions engraved on votive statues and analyze how the inscribed figures constitute one of the most significant steps in the evolution of writing through art.


Votive Statues

These statues of men and women were, according to the inscriptions carved upon some, gifts to deities—thus their designation as “votive.” As is typical of Sumerian art, the statues are made of a soft, whitish, easy-to-work stone, such as gypsum, alabaster, or limestone, plus the addition of other materials. Lapis lazuli was used for inlays, and bitumen, a natural tar common in the Middle East, as a black colorant or glue. The figures are generally quite small, ranging between 10 and 30 cm, but occasionally they reach between 60 and 90 cm. The heads of a few specimens were attached to the shoulders with dowels or glued with bitumen, but most of the votive statues were made from one piece of stone, including the base. The statuettes are divided into

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When Writing Met Art: From Symbol to Story
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction- Writing and Art 1
  • I - How Writing Shaped Art 13
  • One - Pottery Painting 15
  • Two - Glyptic 27
  • Three - The Uruk Vase- Sequential Narrative 41
  • Four - Wall and Floor Painting 47
  • II - How Art Shaped Writing 61
  • Five - Funerary Inscriptions 63
  • Six - Votive and Dedicatory Inscriptions 71
  • Seven - The Stele of Hammurabi 87
  • Conclusion- The Interface between Writing and Art 101
  • Notes 107
  • Bibliography 117
  • Index 129
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