A Neo-Elamite Bitumen Relief
We don’t have many pictures of clothed women from the middle of the first millennium BCE in the Near East. Most of the local peoples did not paint scenes of daily life on their pottery, and their stone-carvings show a man’s world or a heavenly world. The Assyrian palace reliefs show some queens and deported women, and one Achaemenid seal shows a wealthy woman seated on a throne. One other picture of a clothed woman is a Neo-Elamite bitumen relief in the Louvre. Its 9.3 cm high, so five times larger than most of the little seals.
Notice the patterned bands on her shawl, and the patterns on the child’s girdle. Her cross-legged posture reminds me of art from the early empires of Central America. The short sleeves are typical of Mesopotamian clothing in the first millennium BCE.
Over on corporate social media, Maria Bazhatarnik (vkontakt https://vk.com/yarami) has interpreted this relief as a digital drawing. One good thing about turning ancient art into your own drawing or reconstruction is that you have to make choices. You can’t just say “we don’t know” or avoid the issue, and if you prefer a different interpretation, you have to bring it forward. Maria Bazhatarnik chose to give the woman a round neckhole since the relief does not show where the tunic ends and the neck begins. New clothing from Iberia to India in this period was probably woven to shape not woven in long narrow pieces, cut up and sewed back together. The simplest way to make the neck opening was to weave it with a slit in the weave and pin it closed, but other solutions are possible, including cutting out some of the cloth.
The (?Elamite?) deportees riding the chariot are dressed similarly to the women, and one of them seems to have a round neckhole in her shawl. On the other hand, the man on the right seems to have a rectangular neckhole. In a Bronze Age relief in the Louvre, the neck hole even seems to have a point centered in front. So as I figure out Near Eastern clothing from 700 to 300 BCE, I am going to have to think about the shape of the neck opening as well as about which simple geometric shapes it is wrapped or sewed from. It won’t be easy, and the best possible outcome is that I inspire someone to do better and erase my name and achievements. But if I don’t do anything, there will be no progress at all.
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(post scheduled 16 December 2021)