Ancient Near Eastern Art
Neolithic era – 651 BC
The location area of the Ancient Near East is mapped differently by different governmental and academic organizations but is generally agreed to be the northeastern countries of Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean countries, the Arabian Peninsula, and Mesopotamia. Some have it reaching into as far as what we know of as the Middle East.
Mesopotamia spawned the world’s first cities and its some of its first art. Much of the inspiration for Ancient Near Eastern Art came from the relationship between the natural world and the world of the gods, except in Egypt where the Pharaoh sometimes replaced the divine in art.
Ancient Near Eastern Art Origins and Historical Importance:
Beginning in the ancient civilization of Sumer, the land from which we have one of the first formal examples of written script, as well as the first literature, the art of ceramics, sculpture, and metallurgy, gained sophistication not before seen.
For the first time, humanity was organizing itself into urban civilizations known as the Urban Revolution. In what is now modern-day Iraq, cities like Ur and Babylon became cosmopolitan meccas with definitive social hierarchy and status.
While wealth was built from agriculture, status was dependent on the governmental rule or from relationship to religious status. These themes come into play within the images they created.
“If he does not plant the field that was given over to him as a garden, if it bearable land, the gardener shall pay the owner the produce of the field for the years that he let it lie fallow, according to the product of neighboring fields, put the field in arable condition and return it to its owner. – Hammurabi
Steles are a great example of the exaltation of royalty and divinity.
Pyramids, temples, and ziggurats are also examples of the reverence for greatness. The Stele of Hammurabi is seven feet tall and commemorates King Hammurabi, the first formal lawmaker from whom we get many of our own laws today.
At the top, the stele depicts Hammurabi receiving his royal insignia from the god of justice, Shamash. The lower part of the stele is written laws. Steles like this were placed publicly so that citizens would have any time access to important public information such as the law. This sophisticated art form was important for both aesthetic and educationally progressive reasons.
Reliefs on palace walls and public buildings told the stories of the peoples of the land, in particular, the glories of victorious battle. These reliefs are done in stylized detail and with attention to good composition. These reliefs were done in a narrative style that told the story of battle, whether it be against rival armies or hunted animals.
Rulers in the area showed their influence and power through the architecture they built and would leave behind. Some of this architecture was built as a gesture of worship to a particular god or goddess, such as in the case of the original temple in Israel. Nebuchadnezzar II, of biblical fame, built a gate in honor of Ishtar.
With bricks of blue, gold, and black glazed paint and a gate covered in lapis lazuli, the gate would have shined like a jewel from quite far away. On approaching the gate, viewers would have seen bulls, dragons, and flowers decorating the surrounding wall in honor of the goddess.
“We have always realized, as Israelis and as Jews, that we are not fighting Islam and thus avoided turning the Temple Mount issue into a war of Jews against Muslims. – Reuven Rivlin
The metallurgy of the period was detailed and crafted in ways that have not been improved upon to this day. Drinking vessels and vases were formed into near-perfect representations of animals and finished with relief etchings of natural scenes. Ceramics were both beautiful in form and highly proficient function and were even whimsical in design.
Ancient Near Eastern Art Key Highlights:
- Stone, ceramic, and semi-precious stone seals were some of the earliest pieces of art in the Near East, dating as far back as the fifth millennium BC. Their depictions of gods, demons, animals, rulers, and nature give researchers an insight into the minds and cultures of the ancients.
- Statuettes and votive figures played prominently in the lives of ancient near eastern peoples. They mainly represented the gods. Some figures from the Early Dynastic period have cuneiform etching on the back that labels the god and the name and profession of the person who gifted the figure.
- Details of fashions indicate to modern scholars and to the people at the time, the nationality and status of the person depicted. Hairstyles, beard styles, and clothing norms of a people distinguished them and those things are represented in the artworks of the period. Historians are able to piece together ancient legends and stories into what may have really happened from discovered artworks, steles, and narrative images.
Ancient Near Eastern Art Top Works:
- Seated Female Figure – 2500-1500 BC; Northern Afghanistan; Ancient Bactria
- Persepolis Relief: A Gift Bearer – 5th century BC; Southern Iran, Persepolis
- Statue of Gudea – 2090 BC;Neo Sumerian; Girsu in Mesopotamia
- Beak-spouted jar – 1400-800 BC; Northern Iran
- Spouted vessel with gazelle protome – 4th century
- Lachish Relief – 700-681 BC; Ninevah
- Victory Stele of Naram-Sin – 2250 BC; Akkadian
Art Movements (Order by period of origin)
Dawn of Man – BC 10
- Paleolithic Art (Dawn of Man – 10,000 BC)
- Neolithic Art (8000 BC – 500 AD)
- Egyptian Art (3000 BC - 100 AD)
- Ancient Near Eastern Art (Neolithic era – 651 BC)
- Bronze and Iron Age Art (3000 BC – Debated)
- Aegean Art (2800-100 BC)
- Archaic Greek Art (660-480 BC)
- Classical Greek Art (480-323 BC )
- Hellenistic Art (323 BC – 27 BC)
- Etruscan Art (700 - 90 BC)
1st Century to 10th Century
- Roman Art (500 BC – 500 AD)
- Celtic Art
- Parthian and Sassanian Art (247 BC – 600 AD)
- Steppe Art (9000BC – 100 AD)
- Indian Art (3000 BC - current)
- Southeast Asian Art (2200 BC - Present)
- Chinese and Korean Art
- Japanese Art (11000 BC – Present)
- Early Christian Art (260-525 AD)
- Byzantine Art (330 – 1453 AD)
- Irish Art (3300 BC - Present)
- Anglo Saxon Art (450 – 1066 AD)
- Viking Art (780 AD-1100AD)
- Islamic Art (600 AD - Present)
10thCentury to 15th Century
- Pre Columbian Art (13,000 BC – 1500 AD)
- North American Indian and Inuit Art (4000 BC - Present)
- African Art ()
- Oceanic Art (1500 – 1615 AD)
- Carolingian Art (780-900 AD)
- Ottonian Art (900 -1050 AD)
- Romanesque Art (1000 AD – 1150 AD)
- Gothic Art (1100 – 1600 AD)
- The survival of Antiquity ()
15th century onwards
- Renaissance Style (1300-1700)
- The Northern Renaissance (1500 - 1615)
- Mannerism (1520 – 17th Century)
- The Baroque (1600-1700)
- The Rococo (1600-1700)
- Neo Classicism (1720 - 1830)
- Romanticism (1790 -1890)
- Realism (1848 - Present)
- Impressionism (1860 - 1895)
- Post-Impressionism (1886 - 1904)
- Symbolism and Art Nouveau (1880 -1910)
- Fauvism and Expressionism (1898 - 1920)
- Cubism and Futurism (1907-1928 )
- Abstract Art (1907 – Present Day)
- Dadasim and Surrealism (1916 - 1970)
- Latin American Art (1492 - Present)
- Modern American Art (1520 – 17th Century)
- Postwar European Art (1945 - 1970)
- Australian Art (28,000 BC - Present)
- South African Art (98,000 BC - Present)
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