The Met initiated the return of the Early Dynastic figurative sculpture after provenance research by Met scholars established that the work rightfully belongs to Iraq.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Republic of Iraq announced earlier this week that The Met has repatriated a third-millennium BCE Sumerian sculpture—the copper alloy depiction of a man carrying a box, possibly for offerings—to the Republic of Iraq. The repatriation was marked by a ceremony in Washington D.C. with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Iraq, His Excellency Mohamed Shia’ Al Sudani; Ambassador of the Republic of Iraq to the United States of America, His Excellency Nazar Al Khirullah; United States Ambassador to Iraq, Alina L. Romanowski; and from The Met, Andrea Bayer, Deputy Director for Collections and Administration; and Kim Benzel, Curator in Charge, Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art.

The Met purchased the statue in 1955. After provenance research by the Museum’s scholars established that the work rightfully belongs to the Republic of Iraq, the Museum met with H.E. Nazar Al Khirullah, Ambassador of the Republic of Iraq to the United States of America, and offered to return the work. The repatriation follows the launch of The Met’s Cultural Property Initiative last year.

“The Met is committed to the responsible collecting of antiquities and to the shared stewardship of the world’s cultural heritage,” said Max Hollein, The Met’s Director and Chief Executive Officer. “We are honored to collaborate with the Republic of Iraq on the return of this sculpture, and we value the important relationships we have fostered with our colleagues there. We look forward to continuing the ongoing and open dialogue between us.”

About the Statue

Temples were the most important institutions in Mesopotamian cities of the Early Dynastic period (2900–2350 BCE). Each city had a patron deity, whose temple was built on a large platform and was visible for great distances in the flat countryside. The temple was literally a house for the god and a place of ritual, but it was also the most significant economic institution of the time, with large numbers of laborers to work its fields, produce goods for use in the temple, and trade with distant lands. Temple building had its own series of rituals, including purifying the ground on which the temple would stand and dedicating foundation deposits to the resident god.

The figure of a nude man carrying a box on his head is a fine example of Sumerian sculpture in metal. Only certain categories of people were represented as nude in the Early Dynastic period: priests, athletes, mythological heroes, and prisoners of war. This figure, reminiscent of scenes depicting priests carrying offerings, carries an object that might be a temple foundation deposit or an offering related to its building.

The Met’s Cultural Property Initiative

The Met recently announced a suite of initiatives related to cultural property and the Museum’s collecting practices, which include undertaking a focused review of works in the collection; hiring provenance researchers to join the many researchers and curators already doing this work at the Museum; further engaging staff and trustees; and using The Met’s platform to support and contribute to public discourse on this topic. More information is available on The Met website.

About The Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded in 1870 by a group of American citizens—businessmen and financiers as well as leading artists and thinkers of the day—who wanted to create a museum to bring art and art education to the American people. Today, The Met displays tens of thousands of objects covering 5,000 years of art from around the world for everyone to experience and enjoy. The Museum lives in two iconic sites in New York City—The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters. Millions of people also take part in The Met experience online. Since its founding, The Met has always aspired to be more than a treasury of rare and beautiful objects. Every day, art comes alive in the Museum’s galleries and through its exhibitions and events, revealing both new ideas and unexpected connections across time and across cultures.