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This plaque is made of baked straw-tempered clay and is modelled in high relief. It was originally painted with red, black and white pigments. The naked ‘Queen’ cannot be definitely identified but it is clear that she is a Mesopotamian goddess. She wears a cap or headdress with superimposed sets of horns on it. This headdress and her wings are indications that she is a deity. Her wings are hanging downwards to illustrate that she is a goddess of the Underworld and the background of the plaque was originally painted black, which may have been a reference to the night. She is holding ‘rod and ring’ symbols in her hands. These were probably originally items used for measuring and in Mesopotamian art they became symbolic of divinity and the justice of deities and kings. The Queens’ legs end in the talons of birds of prey, similar to the two owls that flank her, and she is standing on the backs of lions. The scale pattern at the bottom of the plaque signifies mountains.

The details, rich symbolism and the creatures shown on the plaque have led to differing ideas of who the Queen may represent. She might have been Ishtar, goddess of love and war who was associated with lions, or perhaps Ishtar’s sister and rival, the goddess Ereshkigal, who ruled the Underworld.

This plaque was probably made in Babylonia (southern Iraq) between 1800 and 1750 BC. It may have come to England as early as 1924, and was brought to the British Museum in 1933 for scientific testing. It has been known since its publication in 1936 in the Illustrated London News as the ‘Burney Relief’, after its owner at that time. Until 2003 it was in private hands. The Director and Trustees of the British Museum decided to make this spectacular terracotta plaque the principal acquisition for the British Museum's 250th anniversary when it was re-named The Queen of the Night.

Details

  • Title: The Queen of the Night
  • Date Created: -1899/-1700
  • Location: The British Museum, Gallery G56/dc23
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 49.50cm; Width: 37.00cm; Thickness: 4.80cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: hand-modelled; pigmented
  • Subject: mammal; bird; jewellery
  • Registration number: 2003,0718.1
  • Production place: Made in Babylonia
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Iraq, south
  • Period/culture: Old Babylonian
  • Material: fired clay
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Sakamoto, Goro. With contribution from Heritage Lottery Fund. With contribution from Art Fund. With contribution from British Museum Friends. With contribution from Hotung, Joseph. With contribution from Seven Pillars of Wisdom Fund. Previous owner/ex-collection Colville, Norman. Previous owner/ex-collection Burney, Sydney Bernard. Previous owner/ex-collection Selim Homsy & Co. Previous owner/ex-collection Homsy, Roger

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