This bas-relief is part of a small plaque from Diqdiqqeh, a
suburb of the Sumerian city of Ur. The plaque is dated ca. 1850 – 1500 BC, during
the Old Babylonian period. It is part of a collection in the British Museum. Leonard Woolley found it during the 1931
excavation of Ur. I found it while searching the website UrOnline.
The plaque was originally a full-length nude, but it was broken in half. There
are many similar plaques from Diqdiqqeh. They were made for mass production. Clay was formed in molds and then fired in a kiln. Many of the plaques are depictions of naked prostitutes.
Woolley’s drawing of the plaque, from his field notes. See
the entire page.
He describes her as a "nude
female figure in high relief; missing from hips down; slightly rounded back;
carefully made; round face; hair arranged in curls and ringlets; hands clasped
together below breast."
size. Height: 64mm (2.5 inches)
For the sake of reference, I call her The Babylonian Woman.
I wanted to call her The Woman of Diqdiqqeh, but I haven't the slightest idea how to pronounce "Diqdiqqeh".
I first planned to use this picture of the statue on a new page about Sumerian prostitutes (coming soon to a theater near you). She’s
not really a prostitute, but I wanted to use this image because she is easily the most attractive woman
that is portrayed on the Diqdiqqeh plaques.
Her face is very realistic. It looks like it was modeled from real life. Her face has the features of an actual woman, and not just the generic features of a stereotypical female.
After I realized this was a portrait of an actual woman, it no longer seemed appropriate to include her on the prostitute page (since she wasn't really a prostitute) so I decided to place her somewhere else on the website.
There was only one problem.
Unfortunately, the statue is marred by
damage to the woman’s breasts. It’s very unsightly, and rather disturbing. It
ruins the picture.
Normally, I would just find another picture to use, but in
this case, I didn’t have a lot of choices. Many of the female faces from Diqdiqqeh
are either damaged, or ugly, or both. Not to mention… bizarre.
Many of the faces were crude to begin with, but the ravages
of time has rendered them grotesque. Men are often portrayed in the same way. Many
of the figures are caricatures, intentionally or not.
With so little to choose from, I needed to use the picture
of The Babylonian Woman.
I tried to remedy the situation by cropping the picture and
making it into a “head shot”, a portrait of her face, but then the image lost
I also tried to post the picture “as is”, but I couldn’t get
used to it. It bothered me. It just bothered me.
Damage on statues of human beings can sometimes look like wounds on their bodies. In this case, it looked like the Babylonian woman had suffered a grievous injury,
like she had been in a terrible accident. It was painful to look at.
I decided to photographically repair the statue, for the
exact same reason that I restored the face of Eannatum (several years ago).
This is king Eannatum, heroically leading his charging chariots
to victory, but it looks like he has suffered a hideous facial wound, ghastly
to behold. I couldn’t bear to look at it. It’s unsettling to see the king in this
condition, so I decided to digitally repair the picture and restore the king to
his former glory. I spent hours doing it, but for me, it was worth it. This is how Eannatum the Great is supposed to look. See the entire picture.
I recently finished work on another plaque from Diqdiqqeh:
I wanted to photographically restore The Babylonian Woman to
her former condition, so people could see her the way she looked before.
I started working on the
statue. The first part was the easy part. Within a minute I had blotted out all the damage. The hard part was trying to create the contours of the breasts, and to make them blend in with the rest of the body. This required the blending
of light and shadows. I didn't have to do a complete restoration, because for some inexplicable reason, none of the 100+ nudes portrayed on the Diqdiqqeh plaques have nipples.
The restoration took many hours of painstaking work, and I wasn't too sure if I could achieve the desired result. Several times I wondered, “Why am I wasting my time with this?"
At last, I finally finished. This is how The Babylonian Woman is supposed
Click on any of the above three images to enlarge it in a separate window. Click here to see the full-size version of the original.
After I finished, just before I closed the photo-editor on my
computer. I took one final look at the picture of The Babylonian Woman in her
original condition. I had seen it for less than a minute before I covered up
the damage. Then something struck me as being rather odd. I thought, “Why is
the damage confined only to the
The entire statue is damaged, of course, since it is more than
thirty-five centuries old. Besides being broken in half, there is cracking,
pitting, and erosion across the entire surface area. But the damage is minor
and it's evenly spread. It’s only in the breast area that the damage is localized
I thought maybe the damage happened when the statue was
buried so long ago in the ancient past. Perhaps the breasts, being the “high spots”, were susceptible to damage by weight and abrasion while the statue was buried in debris for thousands of years.
Then I decided, “No, that’s not it.” I had seen a hundred of
these statues. I remembered that the face and hands are the high spots, not
the breasts. Any damage done by weight and abrasion would happen to the face
and hands. It would be difficult (but not impossible) to damage only the breasts without also damaging
the face and hands.
of a similar statue.
When I looked again at the statue of The Babylonian Woman, I was shocked by what I saw.
This kind of damage isn’t done by weight or abrasion, or by
cracking, pitting, and erosion. There’s no natural cause that could result in
this kind of damage. The breasts were repeatedly struck, chipped away by a
knife or a chisel. Notice the wedge-shaped profile of the blade.
It seems that the statue of The Babylonian Woman was deliberately
and sexually mutilated.
I didn’t want to believe it. I thought, “If the breasts were
deliberately damaged, it seems someone would have mentioned it.” I
went looking for the original record. I thought maybe I had missed something in the
When I found the original record for the statue, there was no
mention of the damage done to the breasts. Neither does the damage appear in Leonard
I looked again at the statue.
The patina on the damage is the same as the surrounding
stone. If it were done recently, the damage would be lighter. This means the
damage was done in ancient times. This is probably when the statue was broken in half
and then thrown into the trash.
The statue is terracotta, fired in a kiln. It is very hard,
which is why it lasted for thousands of years. It would take considerable force to damage this statue. The marks on the breasts indicate that they were repeatedly struck by a sharp knife.
On the other hand, the marks may
indicate “pressure points”. The knife was pressed hard against the statue, then
twisted to chip away the stone.
Either way, it took a deliberate, focused effort to sexually
mutilate this statue.
It’s very disturbing. One has to wonder about the man who
did this. Did he hate all women, or just one woman in particular?
* * * * ** * * * * * * * * *
All this talk about damage to the breasts has distracted us
from the true meaning and importance of this statue. It’s not her breasts that
are important, it’s her face, and what’s most meaningful about this statue is
the Babylonian woman herself. These are the reasons why I wanted to include her
picture in the first place.
The Babylonian woman looks at you with a calm
and steady gaze.
Woolley’s description of the statue as being “carefully made”
applies especially to the face. It isn’t crude or comical like some of the
other faces on the Diqdiqqeh plaques, nor is it simply a generic portrait of "a woman", like all
the other female faces in Mesopotamian art.
The round face and the plump cheeks, the rounded nose and
the small mouth… Her face is very distinctive, very individualistic. She isn't
beautiful in the classic sense of the word, but her face is pretty and
appealing. She has her own look going on.
The artist clearly patterned the face on the features of a
woman he knew. Perhaps she was his wife or his girlfriend, or perhaps she was
merely a woman that he found attractive.
Unlike most nudes portrayed on the Diqdiqqeh plaques, she isn't a prostitute. She doesn’t perform the lewd gesture of “cupping
the breasts” that is specific to prostitutes, she doesn’t wear a belt, and she
doesn’t wear jewelry (all of this will be explained in greater detail on the
upcoming page about prostitutes).
This statue is simply a nude, tastefully and artistically
done. It expresses an appreciation for the beauty of the female body, as so often
seen in Greek and Roman statuary (but not so much in the ancient Near East).
This is another reason why I think the woman was personally known by the
artist. He did not, for prurient reasons, create this statute to be a
prostitute. He created it to be a realistic portrait of a woman he knew (and probably
Although the Babylonian woman doesn't look like any other woman in Mesopotamian
art, I suggest that somewhere in Diqdiqqeh, in the second millennium BC, there
was a woman who looked just like this: