Art of the ancient civilizations that grew up in the area around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, now in Iraq. Mesopotamian art was largely used to glorify powerful dynasties, and often reflected the belief that kingship and the divine were closely interlocked.
) The first of the powerful Mesopotamian civilizations, Sumer was concentrated in the cities of Ur, Eridu, and Uruk in southern Mesopotamia. The Sumerians built temples on top of vast ziggurats (stepped towers) and also vast, elaborately decorated palaces. Sculptures include erect, stylized figures carved in marble and characterized by clasped hands and huge eyes; those found in the Abu Temple, Tell Asmar, date from 2700 BC
. Earlier sculptures in alabaster, such as the Female Head
; Iraq Museum, Baghdad), show a greater naturalism and sensitivity. Inlay work is seen in the Standard of Ur
), a box decorated with pictures in lapis lazuli, shell, and red sandstone. The Sumerians, who are thought to have invented writing about 3000 BC
, produced many small, finely carved cylindrical seals made of marble, alabaster, carnelian, lapis lazuli, and stone. The Sumerians, like the ancient Egyptians who were more or less their contemporaries, believed in an afterlife, and so their tombs were well furnished with art, furniture, and other items to prepare them for the next world.
) The Akkadian invaders quickly assimilated Sumerian styles. The stele (decorated upright slab) Victory of Naram-Sin
; Louvre, Paris), carved in relief, depicts a military campaign of the warlike Akkadians. The technical and artistic sophistication of bronze sculpture is illustrated by the Head of an Akkadian King
; Iraq Museum, Baghdad).
) The characteristic Assyrian art form was narrative relief sculpture. Unlike the other southern Mesopotamian peoples, the Assyrians had access to large quantities of stone, and their many carved reliefs have consequently survived well. These shallow carvings were used to decorate palaces, for example, the Palace of Ashurbanipal (7th century BC
). Its finely carved reliefs include dramatic scenes of a lion hunt, now in the British Museum, London. Winged bulls with human faces, carved partially in the round, stood as sentinels at the royal gateways (Louvre, Paris).
) Babylon came to artistic prominence in the 6th century BC
, when it flourished under King Nebuchadnezzar II. He built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
, a series of terraced gardens. The Babylonians practised all the Mesopotamian arts and excelled in brightly coloured glazed tiles, used to create relief sculptures. An example is the Ishtar Gate (about 575 BC
) from the Temple of Bel, the biblical Tower of Babel (Pergamon Museum, Berlin, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
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