A low relief in alabaster, "Winged Protective Deity" is Assyrian but is also evocative of Babylonian and Zoroastrian art. It is from northern Iraq and located at the Northwest Place of Calakh. The stele is dated 883-859 BCE. Cupid (Eros) is a Roman imperial sculpture in the round from around 190 CE. It stands 63 centimeters in height, about two feet. The medium is stone but the supports are bronze. Several centuries and several thousand miles separate these two pieces. On the surface, there is nothing in common between them. One is a low relief alabaster stele from Assyrian origin, and the other a sculpture in the round from imperial Rome. The viewer experience is completely different, as one must walk around Cupid (Eros) to appreciate the object and see it in all its totality. The experience of the stele is different, because it is flat. Although it has three dimensionality, the sides and back are not as important as they are to the sculpture in the round. It does help to get perspective on the "Winged Perspective Deity," though, to show how high the relief is; and it is low.
After these initial differences are noted, a closer examination reveals some common themes and visual elements. One of the most noticeable similarities between "Winged Protective Deity" and "Cupid (Eros)" is that both of the figures depicted have wings. The wings are located behind their body. The rendition of the wings is, however, completely different for the two forms. On "Winged Protective Deity," one of the wings is located in the upper right portion of the composition. This wing forms a set of diagonal lines that draw in the viewer's eye and leads it to the rest of the composition. The second wing points downward to the lower right quadrant of the stele. This wing has more detail and texture than the upper wing. The lower wing has two layers of feathers. The wings on the Roman statue of Eros are three-dimensional. The viewer can see them from many different angles, unlike those in the "Winged Protective Deity." Yet like the second, lower, wing in the "Winged Protective Deity," the Roman wings offer a multi-layered set of feathers.
The subject of "Winged Protective Deity" is engaged in a deliberate activity, as he picks fruits, what appear to be lemons. His head is rendered in profile, as is his body. His right foot is stepping ahead of his left foot, revealing a meaty calf muscle. Both his feet are revealed, flat on the floor but encased in a thin sandal. Both of his arms are muscular, and the artist has offered fine definition to showcase the strength of the subject. The subject's clothing is draped about him, and includes some textured elements. He has a belt, which holds some knives. The subject is bearded, and his beard is as long and thick as his hair, which extends behind him. Both the beard and the hair are rendered in a rather geometric format, rather than showing loose, flowing hair. The subject wears a hat of some sort, and has bracelets on both arms. His right hand is picking the fruit, and his left hand carries a bucket. A vertical band on the left of the stele is covered entirely with decorative floral elements: there are ten flowers and the one fruit that the "Winged Protective Deity" picks.
In "Cupid (Eros), the subject is depicted with a downcast gaze. He is naked. The statue has been broken, and he is cut off at the knees and elbows. His muscularity is not as pronounced as it is for the "Winged Protective deity," but the youthful figure is in good shape. Like the "Winged Protective Deity," hair is a distinguishing feature. Richly detailed, the hair is in tight curls that hang to his shoulders. The center parting of the hair bears a textured braid, and the sides of the hair are also braided. Unlike the "Winged Protective deity," Cupid (Eros) is not actually doing anything, although it is uncertain what his hands might have been holding if the statue had not been broken. It is also impossible to know what his feet look like but his body is in repose. His weight has been shifted to his left leg, as he stands in a casual position. His wings are raised behind him, and look as if they could flap like butterfly wings.
Both the Assyrian "Winged Protective Deity" and the Roman "Cupid (Eros) are sculptures depicting anthropomorphic gods central to their respective societies. The Roman statue "Cupid (Eros)" depicts a youthful male form, so young that were he not naked, he would have a more androgynous impact. As his wings offer a lightness, and his muscularity is not pronounced, there is still a sense of androgyny about the god of Love. The "Winged Protective Deity," on the other hand, has a distinct and heavy masculinity to his form. His muscularity and his heavy beard are the main messages of his masculinity, but his visage is also male. Cupid (Eros) has softer and more delicate features.
The most noticeable difference in the content and subject matter, as well as theme, is the fact that the "Winged Protective Deity" is in the process of picking fruits from a tree and placing them in a basket. His labor appears pleasurable; his upright position and relaxed demeanor show that this is not back-breaking labor for the deity. The cheerful floral elements along the left vertical band of the slab also impart the sense that the deity is going about his business because he wants to be picking fruit. In this sense, both he and Cupid (Eros) are relaxed, at ease, and comfortable. Neither one of the gods is looking directly at the viewer. The viewer spies on the gods as they go about their business. Cupid (Eros) has a downcast look that shows he is resting; unlike the "Winged Protective Deity," he is not picking fruit. It is uncertain whether Cupid/Eros's arms have jewelry like the Winged Protective Deity does, but given that the rest of Cupid (Eros) is completely naked, it seems unlikely that his hands or feet would be adorned with anything.
There is a greater simplicity of formal elements on the three dimensional "canvas" of the Eros statue than there is on the "Winged Protective Deity." Yet there the demeanor of Cupid (Eros) is equally as comforting and protective as that of the Assyrian counterpart. His large wings, extending behind him, underscore Cupid/Eros's role as the god of Love. The viewer feels as if the god could easily wrap his wings around someone and impart the love that the god is famous for. Both the gods have wings that distinguish them from ordinary mortals. The wings symbolize being spiritually, and physically, uplifted. Wings represent the aspiration of the soul to a higher realm, and convey a lightness of being.
It is possible that both of these objects were used directly in cult worship, in the sense that they might have been placed in temples where viewers could contemplate them and thereby interact with and experience the symbols that these figures represented to their respective cultures. At the same time, there is no indication of how that worship might have taken place. There are no burn marks that might indicate that the objects were used in ritual votive ceremonies, but such ceremonies might have taken place around these objects when they were in situ. Wrested from their places of origin, it is more difficult to get a complete picture of the social, political, and religious role such objects played.
The differences between these two objects indicate some core similarities and differences in the ways Assyrians and Romans worshipped their gods and practiced their religion.…