The Votive Statue of Gudea: A Formal Analysis

When looking at the votive statue of Gudea, we are confronted with a regal image of servitude and sustainability. This two and a half foot statue made in the votive style, signifies devotion and worship with eyes cast to the gods (or goddess as many interpretations suggest). The Statue is made out of diorite which is not an easy material for carving. There were many made like this one, suggesting the importance of the figure, Gudea, who was a ruler in southern Mesopotamian 2144-2124 BC. The hardness of the material has a significant impact of the detail of the carving; the creator had to choose what elements to accentuate texturally and such. Which makes it easy to assume that the water flowing from a vase held tightly by this stout, muscular figure is of great importance. The texture of the water that flows down from the vessel is very stylized with fish jumping in the water that flows past the statues feet and spills onto the surrounding area. This leads me to perceive this devoted figure as a provider.

The figure is made in the votive style, however unlike many votive statues, He is carrying something in his hands. By contextualizing the figure as a votive, or worship item, this addition could either be taken as an offering or gift from the gods. The way that the flowing water is engulfing the figure and falling on the floor around the votive suggests that is a gift, perhaps to the people of Mesopotamia. This display of resources, in companionship with the look of devotion on the statues face places Gudea as a intermediary position between god, and mortal.

In spite of the figures size, it has a strong powerful presence that I am sure is felt more intensely when in its presence. While it is not imposing in scale the muscles on the shoulders and forearms are exaggerated, and the texture given to the head piece suggest a regal position. Furthermore, the inscriptions made on the front of the gown, even without knowing the meaning, tell the viewer that Gudea was in a commanding role. Many votive statues held inscriptions of things that the one personified had done in honor of the gods. Knowing this, the statue of Gudea appears very devoted, commanding and accomplished.

Another interesting aspect of the composition of this piece is the disproportionately large upper body and head. This was a predominate style in many votive statues and other statues from Mesopotamia around this time period. This abnormal proportion draws attention to the face, chest and shoulders. Showing strength, strain, and attention the eyes are peeled widely open, looking up. The arms of this votive are tense, the left hand grips the vessel tightly by this detail the sculptor accentuated the weight of the “gift” the statue is holding.

A key element of this statues is the contrast in texture that we see between the water, and Godea himself. The shoulders of Godea along with the rest of him (excluding the head piece and inscriptions) are relatively smooth, and realistic. The dimple on the statues chin,curve of the lips and detailed lines of the eyebrows are made to look real, same with the feet and arms. This is in great contrast to the rivers of water that flow down both sides of his body.

The two streams of water that are spilling forth from the vessel held in the figures hands are very stylized. They are unrealistic to say the least. Fish can be seen jumping, adding to the water even more motion than was already given by the wavy stylishness of the water itself. The lines are well defined and stand out from the body of the statue, calling attention to its significance. The fish are also very stylized and less realistic then the rest of the figure. While Godea and the vessel are carved in the round (three-dimensional) the water and the fish are both flatter. Maybe only standing out half an inch or so, creating contrast and drawing attention.

The way that the figure may first catch your eyes with its upward stare and then as you follow the form to is center, it leads you back to the earth with water that is spilling forth, suggests sustainability, and abundance in resources. The gaze of the figure being focused upwards, while the feet remain grounded and surrounded by a downward flow of fish and water, signify to me a flow between heaven and earth. This flow is what enables votive statue of Godea to embody not only the position of devotion but also provision.

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4 comments on “The Votive Statue of Gudea: A Formal Analysis

  1. Taylor Harris says:

    I really enjoyed reading your analysis of Gudea, you described characteristics on the statue that I didn’t notice at first. I also found it interesting that you made a connection with the flowing water and fish to symbolize flow between Heaven and Earth.

  2. Jennifer Groce says:

    I liked your post alot you made connections with different pieces of the sculpture that I would have never even have come up with, like the water and fish meaning he was a provider I didnt even think of that it does make sense though. You had a different take on the statue then I did, but I found read your post was fun and educational.

  3. Trevor says:

    To me its seems kind of crazy that an artist would have chosen diorite to carve a figure out of, as you note is a hard material, which doesn’t make it ideal for sculpting. To me this might have had a symbolic meaning suggesting the strength and solidarity of the figure. I also agree with you that this figure most definitely held a strong power when you are in its presence. The defined arm muscles along with the detailed water, the posture and the inscriptions this piece was most definitely an important votive figure.

  4. Amanda Hanson says:

    It also seems strange to me that diorite was the chosen material for this sculpture. I’ve been looking up more information on the stone and I found a couple of interesting things about it. One being that because of how strong the diorite is it can be worked finely and given a high polish. And when looking at images of the statue you can see that it is very smooth and polished.

    So maybe the artist wanted it to be incredibly strong (in a symbolic way) but also something beautiful to look at with the softness that they were able to apply when polishing and smoothing up the stone.

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