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Dancers in the Louvre: The Iranian and Cypriot Collections

Author(s): Anne-Elizabeth Dunn-Vaturi

Source: Near Eastern Archaeology, Vol. 66, No. 3, Dance in the Ancient World (Sep., 2003), pp.
Published by: The American Schools of Oriental Research
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3210913 .
Accessed: 10/07/2011 18:33

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Inthese examples of painted pottery from Tepe Sialk(left) and TchechmeAli (right)the dancers are arranged in the touching or handholding
postures typical of the period.

in the
The Iranian and
Thisdetail from an alabasterwall plaque found on the Acropolisof
Susa, probablydedicated to the goddess Ninhursagduringthe Early
Cypriot Collections DynasticIIperiod (ca. 2650-2550 BCE), depicts a banquet on the
upper register with a man and a woman both seated and holding
By Anne-Elizabeth goblets. The woman is also holdinga harp.The two nude figures in
the center, one in the semi-kneelingposture and one with his legs
partlybent, are interpretedas dancers, but their attitude could be a
usic and dance are well represented clumsyrenderingdue to the centralperforation.The artisanwas
In 1935, probablyunfamiliarwith this type of manufacturebecause perforated
amongtheLouvre's collections. plaques were mostly incised at Susa.
dancesceneshousedin theDepartment ofAncient less amplethan that formusic.Nevertheless,it
NearEasternArt, and musicat the Louvrewas is evidentthatdancewascommemorated in almost
the subjectof a cataloguededicatedto Michel every form of artisticexpression,and that it was
Laclotte,Directorof themuseum,whenhe retired religiousin nature.Unfortunately,
primarily the
in the 1990s(de Margerie1994).As thesestud- exact context of most of these objectsis unknown,
ies suggest,the pictorialinformationfordanceis as arethe preciseeventsdescribedon them.

66:3 (2003)
Duringthe MiddleElamiteperiod
(second halfof the second
millenniumBCE),alongside the vast
quantityof nude female figures, is a
common male type: a small nude
individualwho plays a long-necked
lute and dances in a squatting
position. He recallsthe Egyptiangod
Bes, also depicted in this position,
and the "bow-legged dwarfs"
associated with fertilitysymbols on

Two examples of
wrestling figures. The
copper pin on the
right, from Bactriaand
dating from the
beginning of the
second millennium
BCE, is decorated with
a pair of wrestlers. FI
Below is a figurine
from Cyprusthat
Dancersof AncientIran features two interlocked wrestling males and offers a
The Louvre'sIraniancollection offers a better samplingof unique pyramidalview from all angles.

dancing scenes than other areasof the Near East. Most of the
material on display in the permanent exhibition of the
Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art arrived at the
Louvrethanksto the importantarchaeologicalworkconducted
in Iran by French teams before the Second WorldWar.These *'/
excavationswere the direct resultof a visit to Persiain 1889 by
A^I -< .
Jacques de Morgan, who obtained from Nasr-ed-Din Shah a
concession for the French to conduct archaeological I c
excavations throughout the country. The nucleus of the
?-- -

t!-* -

Iraniansection in the Louvreis the site of Susa,in southwestern

Iran, excavated by a French expedition from the end of the Duringthe thirdmillenniumBCE,banquetscenes
nineteenth century until the Islamic revolution in 1979. arethe mostcommonsubjectdepictedon the wall
Several cylinderseals, terracottafigurines,a stone relief and a plaqueshung in Mesopotamianand Susiantemples.
metal vase portrayingdancingfiguresare reportedfromSusa.A Music often accompanied the feasts. Terracotta
selection of these objects were part of the exhibition "The figurines,a reflectionof popularart, are amongthe most original
RoyalCity of Susa"held in the MetropolitanMuseumin 1992. of Susa'sartisticproductionssince the fourth millennium.The
In early antiquity, dancing scenes were mostly depicted on figurine-plaque created from a single-face mold became
potteryvesselsand cylinderseals.Paintedpotterywas the favored widespreadfromthe beginningof the second millennium.Music
medium for Iranianart during the Neolithic and Chalcolithic constitutesone of the majorthemestreatedon them.
periods.The earliestdancemotifsknownfromIranareof groupsof Iranianworkshopsproducedprestigiousmetal vases decorated
figuresin stereotypicalposturesorganizedin a circlearoundbowls with reliefmotivesin the second millenniumBCE.A fragmentof
from western Iran (TepeMusiyan,Khazineh,Tepe Giyan), the a Middle Elamite vase offers a unique, but incomplete, scene.
IranianPlateau (TepeSialk) and northernIran (TchechmeAli). Figureswith raisedarmswereeitherchasingawayevil spiritsfrom
The scenesarealmostalwaysthe sameforeverypotsherd:rowsof the bed of a sick man, or mourninga relative.This vase, like the
identical figures,with straight or partlybent legs, with hands pottery of earlierperiods, evidently lends itself to this kind of
joined,lookingin the samedirection.The effectof the rhythmis circle composition. The use of the relief technique and a dark
given by the equidistantarrangementof the figures. The role of material emphasizes the dramatic attitude of the exorcists or
danceforthe cycleof the agrarian yearis veryimportantwithinthe mourners,if that is what they are-the interpretationis tentative,
contextof Neolithicsociety(Garfinkel2003). as the attitudeof raisedarmsmayhave other meanings.

66:3 (2003) 107

66:3 (2003)
Threeexamplesof ring-dancerceramicpieces from Cyprus.Allthree
featurethree humanfigures,in dancingpose, risingfroma round
plaque.Twofeaturea tree inthe center whilethe thirdhas no central
element. Thisscene is generallydescribedas a cult scene associated
with a dove divinity,probablythe GreatGoddess of Cyprus.

Another uniquepin housedin the Departmentof Ancient Near

EasternArt is surmountedby two dancingfemales.It was found
in a Proto-urbantombat Telloin southernMesopotamia.
No dancingscenes fromthe Persianperiodare housed in the
Louvre,but a Sasanidmasterpieceis the last evocation of dance
in the Ancient Near Easterngalleries.Among the fine vessels
of the Sasanians,the silvergilt vases, such as the one shown on
the facingpage with fourdancingfemales,are well known.

Dancersof AncientCyprus
Representationsof the dance occur in Cyprusfromthe end of
the second millennium BCEonwards. Groups of ring-dancers
appearnot only in terracottabut alsoin limestone.The usualtype
is with the figuresfixedon a round,flat plaque,arrangedin a ring
round a tree or a musician.Sometimes the musicianswere not
placedin the center,but formedpartof the ring,with alternating
dancers and musicians. One complete specimen of dancers
Wrestlingis sometimesclassifiedas a dancebecausethe combat arounda stylizedtree-a cylindricaltrunkand a conicalbunchof
could be rhythmic (Matousova-Rajmova2001). Wrestling is leaves or branches-was found at Chytroi and is dated to the
depicted on seals fromSusa, as are acrobaticfiguresand other fourthcenturyBCE or earlier.In the Louvre,thereis an exceptional
kind of dancers.One copper pin fromBactria,dating fromthe group from Idalion and dated to the late seventh or beginningof
beginningof the second millenniumBCE,is decoratedwith a pair the sixth centuryBCE.The object consistsof a circularplaquein
of wrestlers.This pin is differentthan the numerouszoomorphic the center of which there is a columnarstand with birds,often
pinsfromthe Louvrecollectionas humansarerarelyrepresented. referredto as a dovecote. Around the peripheryof the disc are

66:3 (2003) 109
.?-.. . ... three human figureswith armsextended horizontally;a fourth
rr `? ??' danceris now missing.At the base of the stand there are a lyre-
-r r ?4 ?? .r

r \? :S)S,.?
?j? ' C C
r r.
playeranda cauldronsupportedon a highconicalfoot.This scene
?- ?i? -`:: .I .d .
is generally described as a cult scene associated with a dove
'' ..

r -?'
c ??
?C .
divinity,probablythe GreatGoddessof Cyprus.The musicianhas
h r.- been associatedwith Kinyras,the mythicalking and high priestof
- ' ' ' :'? ???
--e ,. dre
?\T L .\
.: i ?
Aphrodite,who wasalsofamedas a lyreplayer.
.. ;f
; ... Variousinstruments-lyre, pipe, tambourine-accompanied
?% ??
-?? ?-r s ::
:I ?r' C sacreddances. Among the offeringsmade in the sanctuariesof
rrarera :r ? ..I ..
: ?:21
-'--------- : .' ? the fertility goddess, musicians and figurines of women with
upraised arms predominate. Many figurines of women with
their armsupraisedwere found in the temple of Aphrodite at
Old Paphos.These may representeither the goddess herself or
her worshippers.Raising the arms is a well-known gesture of
worship,and so it is not certain that these figuresare dancers.
Whereasrepresentationsof wrestlersarewell known in Greek
art,they areconsidered unusualin the coroplasticart of Cyprus.
Most examplesof groupsof dancers were found in sanctuaries
(e.g.,at AyiaIrini,AyiosIakovos,Pyla,Achna and Arsos),which,
together with the discoveryof a paved ring at the sanctuaryof
Apollo Hylates at Kourion,confirmthe sacredcharacterof the
ritual.A structuredatingfromthe fourthcenturyBCEwas found
at the site of the sanctuaryof Apollo, with evidence for trees or
bushes within the ring. This sanctuary has also produced a
numberof figurines-musicians, figureswearingbull'smasksor
anthropomorphic masks-and a modelof a sacredtree.
Some idea about religious customs can be learned from the
objects found in sanctuaries and tombs. Votive masks, for
example,mirrorritualpracticesinvolving real masks-some of
which may be connected with funeraryrituals-performed in
ancient Cyprus.

1. I would like to thank Annie Caubet, Curatorof the Departmentof
AncientNearEasternArt, who suggestedthat I undertakethis articleand
a -0 0 I would like to thank Agnes Benoit, Curatorin charge of the Iranian
-6 - collection in the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art, for her
permissionto writeit. Finally,I owe a specialdebtof gratitudeto Caroline
Florimont(Museedu Louvre)forherdrawings.
Scientific Assistant for the three References
departmentsof Antiquitiesin the de Margerie,A. (ed.)
Louvre. She has written several
1994 Musiques au Louvre.Paris:Reuniondes MuseesNationaux.
texts (about music, games and
toys, among others) for a 2003 Dancingat the Dawn of Agriculture.Austin: University of
multimedia set produced by the Texas.
Department of Ancient Near Matousova-Rajmova, M.
EasternArt and has takenpart in 2001 Dancein Mesopotamia. ArchivOrientalni
69: 21-32
the opening of new galleries Rutten,M.
devoted to ancient Iran. She Anne-Elizabeth 1935 Scenesde musiqueet de danse(Museedu Louvre-Antiquites
recentlypublishedthe final report Dunn-Vaturi Revuedes artsasiatiques,TomeIX:218-24.
of C. F A. Schaeffer'sexcavations
at Vounous (Cyprus) in 1933 (Studies in Mediterranean
Archaeology,CXXX, Jonsered:Astroms,2003).

66:3 (2003)

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