Form in Art



The object in question is marked as a Syrian, Bronze Age, stone label seal (c. 3rd- 2nd millennium). Most of the seals I have viewed have much more representational forms on them than this object has. I have not been able to find any books which have pictures of items with this name, which leads me to believe that it has been marked wrong. The object resembles a small, oval shaped bead with indentations in the centers of the longer sides, making it look like the number 8. Both sides have the same, simple decoration of carved lines;(if the object is viewed with the hole through its middle going up to down rather than left to right) two vertical lines in the center and four horizontal lines on either side of these. One side of the object is flat, but the other side is convex. After viewing many pictures of seals and cylinder seals, I find it unusual that this object should be marked as a seal because the design of its decoration is so simple.
It seems more likely that this object is what one definition calls a token or “a small, stone or clay bead worn on a string about the neck. Each token was a different size or shape and stood for different business transactions. An impression would be made in clay or wax signifying that the transaction took place.”(1). These tokens were often only a shape that could be recognized as being different from other individual’s token shapes, like a person’s signature.
The indentations and line decoration on the token make it resemble a pair of wings. The shape of the token’s flat side and rounded side are like a human chest cavity. This could be a combination of human (skeleton) and spirituality (wings). There are many depictions of winged gods and goddesses in ancient Near Eastern art. Though this object is highly utilitarian and has little representational decoration, it seems likely that there would be a connection between its wing-like shape and the frequency of wings in other Syrian art.
The shape of wings being repeated on a token used for business transactions seems to signify that the concept of wings is important culturally. This implies that the Syrian culture fused their religious beliefs with other aspects of their lives. One example of a similar shape used in a religious sculpture is of a North Syrian goddess with a bird’s face from the 2nd millennium BC. The chest cavity and wings of this goddess sculpture have a very similar shape to the token. The lines on the wings of the sculpture radiate down to the edges of the wings like the horizontal lines on the token. The indented-oval shape is also repeated here.
Shaping a tool (tool, meaning: the object in its metonymical sense), to look like a pair of wings, makes the object metaphorical. The object was made with simple decorations to only imply the shape of wings because it was a tool which identified a person or business with a quickly recognizable icon. This is much like a company logo would be today, though the significance of wings was probably used here because of its spiritual implications. One winged Near Eastern goddess, Inanna, was thought to be the bringer of bounty and fertility (2). In this case, using wings for a business tool may be thought to bring plentiful success to the user of the tool.
Another example of wings being depicted in Syrian art is on a cylinder seal with a winged sun disk and lion attacking animals (1500-1300 BC). This example has more in common with the token metaphorically On this seal the winged sun represents male power; the strength of the lion defeating the other animals. The difference here is in the figure in the center of the wings. On the token, there are only two vertical lines between the wing shapes; a figurative “blank space”. There is no actual body represented on the token, only the two lines, as if they are the space where a body could be. Any winged creature could be placed between the lines on the token. The space between those two lines makes the tool have a shifting metaphorical value. It is like a