Tuesday, October 4, 2011

An Analysis of the votive statue of Gudea

The votive statue of Gudea is from Girusu, c. 2090 BCE, depicts a man (Gudea the ruler of Lagash) standing tall and holding a vessel that has water flowing from it. The man wears a circular hat on his head and a robe filled with text that leaves one shoulder bare. The statue is 29 inches tall and made of diorite.

The viewpoint suggested by the statue is one that centers on the front of the body. Even though we assume that the statue was done in the round, the position of the face, the alignment of the body, and the detailed writing gives emphasis to the frontal view. The face is very straight forward, looking directly at the viewer. The body posture also reflects this frontal view. The shoulders and hips are perfectly straight and show no signs of being turned or pivoted in any way. The arms rest in front of the body instead of off to the side and the feet are perfectly aligned to the front. Intricate writing covers the front of the robe from his hands all the way down to his feet, which would force the viewer to look at the front of the figure in order to read the writing.

The lines and the frontal view point do not encourage the viewer to move around the statue to view it from different angles. The composition of the lines are very vertical, even the detailed marks done on the round hat are very straight and vertical. The lines of the water flowing and the vertical columns of writing all encourage the eye to stay on the frontal view of the figure. There are not many lines that are horizontal or that even encourage the eye to move around the figure. The arms and the line of the garment over the one shoulder are some of the few lines that aren't completely vertical. Even those lines force the eye back to the front of the figure. The left arm becomes obscured by the garment and the lines of the flowing water draw the eye down to the writing instead of around the figure. The elbow on the right arm is at a very sharp angle and bends the upper part of the arm up and draws the eye to the vessel being grasped in both hands. Again the the lines of the water draw the eye down to the writing and up to the face.

The arrangement of the body is very static with very little tension created. The body is very straight and erect and seems relaxed. There are no turns or twists to the neck, shoulders, or hips to suggest impending movement. The feet are both firmly planted flat on the ground facing forward and close together. The muscles are well defined on the figures right arm, but they are not bulging in tension, which suggests a relaxed and easy hold of the vessel and that the vessel was not a heavy burden for the man. The hands hold the vessel in both hands and close to the body, in a pose that requires less energy and creates less tension than holding the vessel out from the body. The face shows a very neutral expression with the muscles around the eyes and cheeks looking relaxed. The eyes do create some intensity, though. They appear to be wide open. looking straight ahead, and staring intently at the viewer.

Diorite, a very hard stone, was the material used to make the statue and was very hard to carve. Probably due to the hard nature of the material, the statue is very compact and appears to have been carved from one piece in the round. Even though it was carved in the round it still maintains a very blocky look to it. The shoulders and the body are very square and the shape of the robe is very straight and block like. It is very solid with very little negative space. The only noticeable negative space is created by the feet. There is a rectangular space that has been carved at the hem of the garment and allows the viewer to see the feet. The space does not go all the way through the stone, so instead creates a dark space where only the toes are visible.

The sculpture emphasizes both a sense of flatness and volume. The garment the statue is wearing, the shoulders, and the figures left arm, don't protrude out beyond the ventral, or front, plane of the body. This makes them seem very flat and two-dimensional. The roundness of the hat and the face help add some depth to the statue, along with the roundness of the statue's right arm and the deep groove at the bend in the elbow. The shadow by the elbow and by the deep carving by the feet help lend the statue more of a three dimensional appearance. Even with those shadows, there is little in the sense of drama and the way the light plays over the figure leaves little hidden from view. The face is in full view and we can see the relaxed face and the text on his clothing is fully visible. Only his feet remain in deep shadow but because of the their position being flat to the ground and close together, there is is no expectation of hidden movement.

The color of the statue is a very monotone grey, and adds to the two-dimensional affect. Instead of emphasizing areas that are in higher relief and and lower relief, it causes the statue to appear more flat. The gray doesn't add any contrast between areas and it gives the appearance of less depth.

The lines and grooves of the hat, the water, and the text on the clothes give the otherwise smooth sculpture some texture. Texture is given to the hat by a series of grids, which may have been carved to give the appearance of fleece on the brim of the hat. The grooved lines for the water help to give some texture to the upper part of the body and help to frame the text on the front of the clothing. The main bulk of the texture, though, is added through expanding columns of text that have been scratched or carved on the front of the statue. Unlike the series of parallel lines created on the rest of the statue, the text creates interesting patterns and helps to draw the attention and the eye of the viewer. This could have been the artist's intentions, to have the viewer see the man, but more importantly learn about him through the text.


  1. Hey! Great analysis! I really enjoyed reading the part where the statue seemed both flat and with volume at the same time. It is very interesting how two totally opposite characteristics are shown in one piece of art work.

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  3. It was great reading your formal analysis! This was very strong in the way you supported everything you said, from how the writing, overflowing vessel, stance, and lines help guide the viewer to it's intended viewing perspective; the frontal view. It's interesting that even though this statue was created in the round, it is only meant to be seen from the front. It makes me want to look at all sides, haha.