This fragmentary statuette of a woman is in the Louvre Museum (AO 295). It is labeled as a "woman
with a scarf.” She is a “princess during the reign of Gudea."
There has been some debate on whether the woman is really Gudea’s
wife or his daughter. “Princess” gives the impression that she is his daughter, although the Louvre doesn't actually come right out and say it.
On the other hand, she could just as easily be his wife, and therefore a queen
rather than a princess. Then again, she may be just "some princess" who is not related to Gudea at all.
On my website, I posted several pictures of this woman labeled
as a "Sumerian Princess”. I also described her as “Ninalla, the wife of Gudea.” That
way I had both bases covered. I could rationalize this to myself because
Ninalla was a royal princess before she became a queen. She was the daughter of
Ur-Baba, the king of Lagash. Gudea married Ninalla and he became the king of Lagash after the death of her father. In this way, Ninalla was both a princess and a queen.
If I was forced to choose between the two options, between
either a princess or a queen, I would have guessed she is Gudea’s wife (the
queen) and not his daughter (the princess).
I based this conclusion on one simple fact: There is no
evidence that Gudea ever even had a daughter. Maybe he did, but there isn’t any
evidence for it. Obviously, he did have a wife, so she is the most likely
candidate for the identity of the statue. Plus, Gudea commissioned many statues
of his family (see the pages about his sons, Ur-Ningirsu and Lugal-agrigzi), so
it’s only natural to assume that he also had several statues of his wife.
This is the only surviving statue of Ninalla. We know it's Ninalla because it has her name written on it. Unfortunately, the statue is heavily damaged (to say the least).
Nonetheless, I was reasonably certain that AO 295 in the Louvre was Ninalla, Gudea’s wife and the queen of Lagash.
Something about this picture immediately caught my attention.
I instantly recognized Ninalla on the left. At first, I thought it was the
exact same statue that is shown on the top of this page. I thought it had been colorized
to enhance its appearance.
profile of the statue in the Yale collection.
Then I noticed there is damage (on the ear, hair, and eyebrow)
that isn’t present on the Louvre statue. Other than that, the statues seemed exactly the same...
As a matter of fact, they are the same statue. I was later informed by Yale that their statue is a plaster cast of AO 295. I don't know why there is additional damage on the Yale statue.
I believe she is wearing a collared blouse,
not a scarf, as stated by the Louvre.
Notice the details of profile: the slope and the shape of the
nose, the flat face, the slight overbite, and the receding chin.
This statue is a realistic portrait of an
individual woman, and not just a generic depiction of “a woman's face” which is typical of ancient statuary, where all the women look alike.
It isn't very surprising that this is a recognizable portrait of an actual woman. That's because realistic human portraiture was invented during the reign of Gudea. See The Face of Gudea. For the first time in history, stone statues began to resemble the people they portrayed.
I decided the statue had to be Ninalla. Surely only the
queen would warrant the creation of a realistic portrait carved in stone.
A few days ago, I started working on a new webpage about
Ninalla. My working draft was titled “Ninalla”. I created a new picture folder
called “Ninalla”, and filled it with pictures called “Ninalla.this” and “Ninalla.that”
(Ninalla.face, Ninalla.profile, etc.).
I was halfway finished with the webpage. I was
looking at the picture that is shown above. Then I realized something.
The shape of the nose, the flat face, the slight overbite, and the receding
chin... I had seen this profile before.
On Gudea himself, no less.
(Click on any of the following five pictures to enlarge it
in a separate window.)
She looks just like Gudea. They are obviously related.
She is not Gudea's
wife, the queen.
She is Gudea's daughter, the princess.
The princess of Lagash.
She has the same profile as her father, the same nose and
the same flat face. Perhaps the eyes were also the same. There are two main differences
between the father and daughter. She has fuller lips, and her chin (when
viewed from the front) is smaller and rounder.
Gudea was the first man (and
king) to commission a realistic portrait of himself.
He is the first recognizable
man in all of human history.
He also commissioned realistic portraits of his sons,
Lugal-agrigzi (left) and Ur-Ningirsu ...
and this portrait of his daughter.
Except for the joined eyebrows (a ubiquitous
feature on most Sumerian statues) and the thick eyelids, this is a realistic portrait of the princess in the prime of her life.
Were it not for this statue, she would be completely forgotten. Until just a few days ago, no one knew she existed. Now she has suddenly reappeared, after more than 4,000 years, looking the way she did when she was a young woman.
We still don’t know her name, but now we know who she
She is the Royal Princess of Lagash, the daughter of Gudea, the king of Lagash.
She is also the first recognizable woman in all of human history.