Figure féminine

Female figure

Discovered in 1899 by a German diplomat during the construction of the Baghdad Railway linking Berlin to Baghdad, the Tell Halaf site (meaning “the hill of Halaf”) in Syria, dated 5900-4500 B.C., was first explored by German archaeologists between 1911 and 1913, before the French took it over between 1927 and 1929. It represents a culture that was born in the 6th millennium along the Khabur River at the border between Syria and Turkey and spreads throughout the Lower Tigris Valley and from there into the whole Middle East. This culture, with its small size villages harboring around one hundred inhabitants, has an elaborate architecture with distinctive rounded domed structures known as “tholoi” with squared antechambers. It mastered a brilliant ceramic art, painted potteries with a light engobe embellished with darker patterns (chevrons, diamonds, and checks) then polychromes. It produced small size female figurines in stone or clay that seemed to fall within the continuity of the female motifs in ancient Anatolian cultures, which might indicate their expansion.

This terra cotta female figurine adorned with black painted chevron and stripe patterns is typical of the Halaf ware in its fabrication technique, its theme and its décor. The buxom and stylized shapes, the hardly sketched head and extremities, the sitting position, reminds us of former Neolithic cultures female “idols”. The arms’ rounded gesture and the hands joined between the breasts, reinforce the evocation of fertility and motherhood. The English archaeologists Mallowan and Perkins saw in them figurations of the “Mother Goddess”, and women giving birth. However, these flat-bellied women do not seem to be in a delivery position, and we do not know of any child figuration amongst the Halaf ware. For Peter Ucko, it would rather be children’s toys.

Published in: Thimme 1976, n°569, p. 404 and 564; Zimmermann 1991, p. 28-29; Barbier-Mueller 2003, p. 28.