The Museum’s Gudea

By: L. L.

Originally Published in 1937

View PDF

The death of Gustav Oberlaender on November 30th has brought a unique sense of loss to the officers and members of the Board of Managers and has deprived the University Museum of one of its most generous and loyal friends.

Mr. Oberlaender first became associated with the Museum in 1930 in connection with the excavations at Minturno, Italy. It was in large measure through his initiative and by means of his support that it was possible for the Museum to avail itself of this unusual opportunity. He was elected a member of the Board of Managers in November 1931, and from that time forward followed with constant interest all the phases of its activity and with characteristic generosity assisted many of its undertakings.

Although he was noted for his aid to many projects in the field of archaeology, and classical archaeology ever retained his major interest, nevertheless it is felt that in many ways his association with the Museum and its activities gave him especial satisfaction. Above all was his kindly counsel and his ever wise advice of value to the Board and to the staff, and the clarity of his vision constantly enabled him to see accurately the solution of many an obscure problem.

His gentle nature and his keen sense of obligation to his fellow men will leave a gap in many a circle, and in none will it be more greatly felt than in the University Museum.


On March 31st the Museum lost, through the death of John Sargent Newbold, not only the senior member of its Board of Managers but one whose interest and whose devotion to the development of the institution marked him high among its most valued friends. Whether the times were difficult or easy, the richness of Mr. Newbold’s wisdom, the breadth of his knowledge in the field of archaeology and his kindness continually assisted the forward progress of the Museum for which there is no doubt he had a warm affection. In addition to his ever ready counsel on administrative affairs, he enriched the collections periodically and the library was constantly enhanced by his gift of books.

When an institution such as the Museum has counted for more than a score of years upon the presence of one so kindly and so generous as a member of its Board, its officers and its staff cannot with equanimity face the years ahead without a deep sense of sorrow and a real feeling of irreplaceable loss.


COMPLETE statues of Gudea are rare, and very expensive, and nearly worth their weight of gold in the hands of antique dealers. Through the vicissitudes of time, if not by a willful ruse of clandestine diggers, heads and bodies are found and sold apart, and very seldom is the break so recent and so clean, that a head can be restored with absolute certitude on the original body. Even the Louvre Museum, since 1878 the treasure house of Sumerian art, with its nine large Gudea statues of human size and four separate heads, had to await until 1903 the discovery of a new head which fitted exactly on a formerly recovered body.

Diorite head of Gudea wearing a turban, chin is chipped
Plate I — Diorite Head of Gudea
Museum Object Number: B16664
Complete Gudea statue, a seated man with his hands folded in a one shoulder garment and turban
Plate II — Statue of Gudea
The head is in the University Museum and the body in the Baghdad Museum
Image Number: 8054

The only complete statue of Gudea discovered at Lagash- Tello-after the war, has been acquired by the Copenhagen Glyptotheca, at a price above the means of any other European or American Museum. The University Museum was very proud and satisfied to acquire in 1927 a small Gudea head, probably from the same find, perfectly preserved, except for a little chip off the chin. The nose notably is intact.1

As luck would have it, the rest of the body was found in Mesopotamia. The 5th of August 1935, the Director of Antiquities of the Baghdad Museum, suggested that it would be interesting to both the Iraq and our Museum if a cast of our Gudea head was made and sent to them to enable them to see whether or not it fitted the body of the seated Gudea actually on exhibition there. In case it fitted, they would gladly send us in exchange a cast of the body. The head fitted well on the body. The cast of the Baghdad statue arrived at Philadelphia on the 5th of April 1936, and we now have the satisfaction of seeing the complete statue2 of the little statue presented over four thousand years ago by the ruler of Lagash to his patron god Ningishzida, a god of Hades.

The inscription chiselled on the front part of his garment reads:
To Nin-gish-zi-da, his god, Gu-de-a, the pa-te-si (ruler-priest) of Lagash, the man who built the E-ninnu temple of Ningirsu; His statue he carved. “My temple stands,” he called its name; He introduced it in his temple.

We can now see Gudea himself, a little squat figure, seated quietly on a bench with A-shaped feet. He keeps his hands clasped in the traditional attitude of respect, in front of his Lord. His costume is the usual fringed shawl covering only the left shoulder. His feet are bare, and his head is covered with the turban of kaunakes cloth in fashion in his time.

L. L.


1 cf. Museum Journal, Sept. 1927, pp. 241-245
2 Height 34 cm

Cite This Article

L., L.. "The Museum’s Gudea." Museum Bulletin VI, no. 6 (May, 1937): 5-7. Accessed July 13, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/bulletin/1899/


This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

Report problems and issues to digitalmedia@pennmuseum.org.