Jan 14, 17-Art of the Ancient Near East & Ancient Egypt: Reading Notes
Chapter 2-Art of Ancient Near East
Stele of Naram-Sin (found at present day Iran) ruled 2254-2218 BCE Stele: upright stone
-Mesopotamia artists developed this stele celebrating and communicating the political
stratification that gave order and security to their world
-Akkadian ruler Naram-Sin’s power presence is signaled by size as he is the largest person
-art work conforms to an artistic practice known as hierarchic scale where relative size indicates
-The ruler is also elevated above other figures, sense of grandeur; clasps weaponry such as a
spear, battle axe, bow and arrow, grand helmet on his head has horns which are normally
reserved for gods claiming divinity
-The eroticized pose and presentation of Naram-Sin with a well-formed male body is displayed.
In ancient Mesopotamian culture male potency and vigor were related to heroism and powerful
-representation of the ruler points to his sacredness and authority as a leader of the state
-tells a story of one of his important military victories. He stands above smaller figures and on
the left, his army who are dressed in a similar fashion seen marching along up the hillside into
battle. Native trees are included to heighten the sense that this portrays an actual event. The
enemy (Lullubi people from eastern Mesopotamia) are on the right. One of the enemies are
depicted with a spear to his neck and others are begging for mercy.
The Fertile Crescent and Mesopotamia
SUMER: The cities and city states that developed along the rivers of south Mesopotamia b/w
3500 and 2340 BCE is known as Sumer. The Sumerians are credited with important
technological and cultural advances.
WRITING: Sumerians pressed cuneiform (wedged shaped) symbols into clay tablets with a
stylus to keep business records
THE ZIGGURAT: Sumerians’ most impressive archaeological remains are ziggurats (huge
stepped structures with a temple or shrine on top). Ziggurats towering above the flat plains
proclaimed wealth, prestige, and stability of a city’s rulers and glorified its gods. It functioned
symbolically as lofty bridges between the earth and the heavens (meeting place for humans and
gods) URUK: Two large temples complexes in the city of Uruk mark the first independent Sumerian
city state. The temple had a doorway that led to a large chamber containing an altar.
-Statues of gods and donors were placed in these temples. A life size marble face from Uruk
may represent a temple goddess. It could have been attached to a wooden head on a full size
-A tall vessel of carved alabaster (fine, white stone) 3300-3000 BCE found in the temple
complex of Inanna at Uruk shows how early Mesopotamian sculptors told stories in stone with
great clarity and talent. The visual narrative is organized into three registers or horizontal bands
and the story condensed to its essential elements. The lowest register shows in a lower strip the
sources of life in the natural world, beginning with water and plants, the upper strip shows rams
and ewes marching in a single file while the middle register shows naked men carry baskets of
food, the top register shows the goddess Inanna accepting offerings from two figures where she
is in front of a gate leading to a shrine.
VOTIVE FIGURES: limestone statues dated to about 2900-2600 BCE from the square temple in
Eshnunna. The figures of men and women, images dedicated to the gods, are related to the
ancient Near Eastern devotional practice in which individual worshippers can set up images of
themselves in a shrine. The sculptors followed conventions that were important in Sumerian art
where figures have stylized faces and bodies, dressed in clothing that emphasized cylindrical
shapes, standing solemnly, hands clasped, staring eyes may be related to texts tat advised
worshippers to approach their gods with an attentive gaze. The faces of the women had arched
eyebrows and big eyes while the men are bare-chested and dressed in sheepskin skirts and are
stocky and muscular with heavy legs, large feet, big shoulders. Females are as massive as the
-Sumerian artists worked in various precious metals and many were in the shape of animals or
animal, human, bird creatures. For example, lyre, a harp from the city of Ur consists of wood,
gold, lapis lazuli and shell. The base projects a wood-sculpture of a blue bearded bull covered in
CYLINDER SEALS: About the time written records appeared, Sumerians developed seals for
identifying documents and establishing property ownership. By 2200-3100 BCE record keepers
redesigned the seal as a cylinder which left a raised mirror image of the design into the surface
proved the authenticity or accuracy of a text. It is usually less than 2 inches high and made of
hard stone. People acquired seals as a sign of status and were usually buried with them along
with other possessions.
-the lapis lazuli seal is one of over 400 that were found during excavation of the royal burials at
Ur. It comes from the tomb of a powerful royal woman known as Puabi. The design shows two
registers of a banquet which all guests may be women.
AKKAD: Akkadians inhibited an area north of Uruk. They adopted Sumerian culture but unlike
Sumerians, they spoke a Semitic language. They conquered most of Mesopotamia with their
powerful military and political figure, Sargon. DISK OF ENHEDUANNA: partially preserved circular relief sculpture in alabaster excavated at
Ur by British Archaeologist Leonard Woolley. Most extraordinary surviving works of ancient Near
Eastern art. Enheduanna is pictured with her companions wearing a fleeced wool garment and
a headgear of a high priestess who was the daughter of Sargon I. The front of the disk
commemorates the dedication of Enheduanna’s donation of a dais (to the platform) to the
temple. The naked man in front of her pours a ritual libation and she and her two other followers
have their right hands on their faces.
HEAD OF A RULER: Is a life size bronze head found in the northern city of Nineveh (Ninua,
Iraq) and the earliest known work of hollow cast sculpture using the lost-wax casting process.
-enormous curling beard, braided hair indicate both royalty and ideal male appearance
-deliberate damage to the left side of the face and eyes suggest it was symbolically mutilated to
destroy its power (eyes and ears have been removed)
THE STELE OF NARAM-SIN
-memorializes one of Naram-Sin’s military victories and is one of the first works of art created to
celebrate a specific achievement of an individual ruler. After a thousand years after the end of
Akkadian rule, during the twelfth century, Elamite king conquered Sipar and transported the
stele to Susa where he rededicated it to an Elamite god, adding a new explanatory inscription
which recounted his own victory and claiming the monument. The stele remained in Susa until
the end of the nineteenth century and then excavated by a French archaeologist, it is in Paris at
UR AND LAGASH
-King Urnammu of Ur sponsored magnificent building campaigns such as a ziggurat dedicated
to the moon god Nanna called Sin. Mud-bricked, rectangular base with three sets of stairs
converging and the walls sloping outward.
-Lagash, a Sumerian state city on the Tigris river. The ruler Gudea built and restored many
temples, he placed votive statues representing himself as governor and embodiment of just rule.
The statues are made of hard stone diorite. Images of Gudea present him as a strong, peaceful,
pious ruler, always wearing a long garment, right shoulder bare, wearing a cap, holding a
vessel. The text on his garment states that he dedicated himself, the statue and its temple to the
goddess Geshtinanna, the divine poet and interpreter of dreams. The sculptor has emphasized
the power centers of the human body: the eyes, head and smoothly muscled arms. His face is
youthful and his eyes are oversized and wide open.
THE HITTITES OF ANATOLIA
Anatolia (present day Turkey) had several independent cultures that had resisted
Mesopotamian domination. The Hitties of central Anatolia were the most powerful. They
established their capital in 1600 BCE and it came to an end in 1200 BCE. They created an
empire that stretched along the Mediterranean Sea which resulted in conflicts between the Egyptian empire. May have been the first to work in iron which they used for war chariot fittings,
weapons, chisels and hammers. They are noted for the artistry of their fine metal work and
imposing palace citadels with fortified gates and double walls. One of the most monumental of
these sites consists of the foundation and base walls of Hittite stronghold at Hattusha (1400-
1300 BCE). Stone were used for lower walls and walkways, upper walls and stairways were
brick. Blocks of stone to frame doorways were decorated with guardian figures some 7 feet tall
and were half-human, half-animal creatures and animals.
-Assyrians rose to dominance in northern Mesopotamia in about 1400 BCE
-began conquering neighboring regions about 1000 BCE and controlled most of Mesopotamia
by end of ninth century BCE as well as extended influence as far as Egypt by early seventh
-empire collapsed by 600 BCE
-rulers built huge palaces atop high platforms, were decorated with shallow stone reliefs of
battle and hunting scenes, of victories, presentations of tribute to the king and religious imagery.
-Assurnasirpal II established his capital at Kalhu during his reign between 883-859 BCE and
undertook an ambitious building program
-the city was fortified with mud brick walls, canals that irrigated fields and provided water;
limestone and alabaster were also used to on walls for architectural decoration. Colossal
guardian figures flanked the major portals (grand entrances) and panels covered the wall with
scenes in low relief of the king participating in rituals, war campaigns and hunting expeditions.
THE LION HUNT
-vivid lion hunting scene where Assurnasirpal II stands in a chariot and drawing his bow at a lion
as another lion collapses; probably a ceremonial hunt
ENEMIES CROSSING THE EUPHRATES TO ESCAPE ASSYRIAN ARCHERS
-palace relief of a scene of a battle set within a detailed landscape
-Three Assyrian enemies, two of which they are using floating devices, swim across a river as
Assyrian archers are trying to attack. Scene is an event from 878 BCE.
-Sargon II built a new Assyrian capital at Dur Sharrukin. Northwest side of capital is a walled
citadel (fortress). Sargon lived in his palace complex within the citadel which was a raised
platform about 40 feet high. -Lamassus, guardian figures on stone gates, combined a bearded head of a man, the body of a
lion or bull, the wings of an eagle and a horn headdress of a god.
-Ziggurat within the complex to declare the might of Assyrian kings and symbolizing their claim
to empire. Probably had seven levels and each painted a different colour.
-Assurbanipal, the Assyrian king three generations after Sargon II, maintained his capital at
-palace was decorated with alabaster panels carved with pictorial narratives in low relief (in
battle, hunting or scenes of palace life)
-Assurbanipal and his queen in the garden shows the king reclining on a couch and the queen
sitting on a chair at his feet while musician plays music, three servants with trays of food while
others wave whisks to chase off insects. The scene is a victory celebration; the severed head of
the enemy can be seen hanging on a tree.
-at the end of the 7 century, Assyria was invaded by the Medes (from western Iran)
-the Neo-Babylonians controlled the regions of modern turkey to northern Arabia and
Mesopotamia to Mediterranean Sea.
-most famous Neo-Babylonian ruler was Nebuchadnezzar II who was a great patron of
-he built temples that were dedicated to the gods and transformed Babylon into a great city.
-Babylon straddled the Euphrates River, its 2 sections joined by a bridge
-the route taken by religious processions honoring the city’s patron god, Marduk, was paved
with stone slabs set in a bed of bitumen, it ran from the bridge through the temple district and
palaces and though the gate of Ishtar.
-The Ishtar gate was a ceremonial entrance to the city, its four crenellated (walls for military
defense) towers symbolized Babylon power
-beyond the gate were walls of dark blue glazed bricks consisting of a film of colored glass on
-against the blue background was molded colored bricks forming images of lions, mascots of
the goddess Ishtar and dragons.
-In 6 century BCE, the Persians began to seize power of Mesopotamia establishing a vast
empire -Darius I, a Persian ruler, created palaces and citadels and made Susa his first capital
-He began construction of Parsa (one of the most well preserved and most impressive ancient
sites near east and also known as Persepolis) importing workers, materials, and artists from all
over his empire. He even ordered work done to be in Egypt and sent back to his capital. A new
multicultural style of art had emerged that combined many traditions.
-reliefs of animal combat on the stairs, ranks of royal guards, delegation of tribute bearers are
depicted. Animal combat emphasize the ferocity of the leaders and their men. Elegant drawing,
balanced composition and sleek modeling reflect Persians’ knowledge of Greek art and maybe
use of Greek artists. Other reliefs depict displays of allegiance or economic prosperity.
-Alexander the Great of Macedonia defeated Darius and nearly destroyed Persepolis in 330
-Although the empire was at an end, Persia revived and its style of art continued to influence
Greek artists and became a foundation in Islamic art.
Chapter 3-Artof Ancient Egypt
Early Dynastic Egypt c.2950-2575 BCE
-around 3000 BCE, Egypt became a consolidated state as a powerful ruler from Upper Egypt
conquered Lower Egypt and unified the two kingdoms
-Works of art in this period show the development of fundamental ideas about kingship and
-Egypt’s kings were revered as gods in human form. To please the gods and ensure their good
will to the state, kings built temples and provided priests to maintain them. Gods and goddesses
were depicted in various forms, some as human beings, others as animals and others as
humans with animal heads.
-Egyptian artists followed a set of strict conventions often based on conceptual principles rather
than the observation of the natural world (lifelike). Mathematical formulas were developed to
determine designs and proportions.
THE NARMER PALETTE
-Found in the temple of Horus at Hierakonopolis
-commonly interpreted as representing the unification of Egypt and the beginning of the
country’s growth as a powerful nation state -hierarchic scale signals the importance of Narmer as he is shown larger than the other figures.
He wears the white crown of Upper Egypt while striking the enemy before him with a mace. The
god Horus depicted as a falcon holds a rope tied around the neck of the enemy whose head is
attacked to a block sprouting papyrus which symbolizes Lower Egypt.
-message is clear: Narmer, a ruler of Upper Egypt is in control of Lower Egypt
-many of the figures are shown in composite poses. This convention for representing the human
figure as a conceptualized composite of multiple viewpoints depicts mostly royalty. Persons of
lesser rank tend to be represented in ways that seem more lifelike.
-Ancient Egyptians believed Ka (soul) was essential as it lived on after the death of the body.
The Ka needed a body to live in either a mummified body of the deceased or a substitute such
as a statue.
-Egyptians developed elaborate funerary practices to ensure that their deceased moved safely
into the afterlife. It was especially important to provide a comfortable home of the Ka of the
departed king so even in the afterlife, he would continue to ensure the well-being of Egypt.
-Egyptians preserved the bodies of the royal with care and placed them in burial chambers filled
with sculpted body substitutes and all the supplies and furnishings the Ka might need.
-the most common tomb structure (used by upper class and royalty) was the mastaba, a flat
topped one story building with slanted walls erected above an underground burial chamber. It
was first constructed by mud brick but then was incorporated with cut stone.
-contained a serdab, a small sealed room housing the ka statue and a chapel designed to
receive mourning relatives and offerings.
-might have had numerous underground burial chambers to accommodate whole families
-tended to be grouped together in a necropolis at the edge of a desert on the west bank of the
Nile, for the land of the dead