Rare Mesopotamian 'Watching Eyes' Tell Brak Eye Idol
white Alabaster, 18.21 grams, 48.41 mm. Circa 3,200 BC. An extremely good example of a so-called 'eye Idol' of Mesopotamia from the city of Tell Brak, Syria. Carved with a rounded rectangular body with tapering shoulders and a neck on which rests two 'Watching' and 'Guarding' Eyes with eye brows. Today the remains of Tell Brak covers a massive forty-hectare area. It was first excavated by Max Mallowan in 1937-8 when he found the remains of early religious practices represented by hundreds of votive objects, including the so-called 'eye idols'. Tell Brak must be considered as one of the oldest cultural sites in the world it was still in use during the Mitannian empire [1,500 - 1,360 BC]. During the Hellenistic and Roman eras, the site lay silent. Tell Brak was known as Nagar in Antiquity. Reference: Authenticated by Professor Lambert of Birmingham University [Specialisms - Oriental studies: Assyrian. Appointments: Associate Professor and Chair of Oriental Seminary, Johns Hopkins University 1959-64; Professor of Assyriology, University of Birmingham 1970-93. Principal publications: Babylonian wisdom literature 1960, joint author Atra-hasis; The Babylonian story of the flood, 1969; The qualifications of Babylonian diviners, Festschrift für Rykle Borger 1998. Elected to the Fellowship 1971]. Good very fine condition. Provenance: from an old English collection, collected from the Tell Brak Region in the 1930's. [Accompanied by a hand written scholorly note by Professor Lambert]
Although they date from roughly 3200 BC, Eye Idols look remarkably modern. Simple and abstract, they represent the human form with a flat trapezoidal body and oversized eyes. Hundreds of these figurines were found in a monumental building known as the 'Eye Temple' in Tell Brak, north-eastern Syria. The idols vary in size from about 3 to 6 cm in height, and are made of either white or black alabaster. Because of the huge numbers of idols found, the monumental building where they were found has been called the 'Eye Temple.' The interior decoration was lavish - the altar was decorated with a frieze made from colourful stones, silver nails and gold foil, and on the floor and walls were mosaics made from coloured clay cones. Eye imagery and designs are found in the frieze and carvings in the temple, suggesting that the eye was a powerful magical and religious symbol. The large number of Eye Idols found and their size suggests that they were left in the temple as votives (gifts to the gods), perhaps representing the people who dedicated them as offerings. The decoration of the idols varied, and it seems that they may have been personalised; those on display in the Fitzwilliam are examples of the simplest type, but others have carved lines and zig-zags on their bodies depicting clothes. There are even examples of group idols representing more than one figure - some of which have a smaller 'child' figure carved onto the front. Eye Idol from Tell Brak (WAE.5.1966)
Although Tell Brak is in north-eastern Syria, both the decoration and plan of the Eye Temple resemble that of south Mesopotamian temples, such as those in Uruk and Eridu. Eye symbolism was also popular in Mesopotamia around this time, and eye designs have been found on objects from the Royal Cemetery from Ur as well as in temples. The Eye Idols of Tell Brak, however, are completely unique and have no parallels, in either Syria or Mesopotamia. For more information: D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern Art (London, 1995), 47, fig. 26. M.E.L. Mallowan, Excavations at Tell Brak, Iraq 9 (1947), 32-8; 150-9; 198-210.