Main theme for today, “Art and Power” (the emergence of political and religious powers). How does one convey power through art? Since art and architecture were a means of establishing and consolidating the institutional authority of the first civilizations, it has become a convention of later Eastern and Western societies to adopt and modify this precedent. A formal vocabulary for socio-political and religious power became a standard means of expressing the leaders’ rule over both secular (earthly) and religious (celestial) affairs. The joining of church and state, which had emerged as centralized institution(s) for the first time in Western history in the Ancient Near East, persists as a theme in the region and beyond. And, the formal conventions (methods of representation) are often signifiers of power and authority in a contemporary context. And so it is not at all surprising that both ancient and contemporary authoritarian rulers (here Ashubanipal and later, Saddam Hussein) adopted strict and stylized means of representing themselves in their propagandistic images. In fact, as we’ll later see, this approach was common not only in the Ancient Near East but among other civilizations who used their art and architecture to extol the power and authority of their rulers. Today, we will take a look at some ancient Mesopotamian cultures and the art and architecture produced by them. We will see how these objects and buildings contain very deliberate messages about the social, political and religious beliefs of these civilizations. Like other officially commissioned artworks, these were meant to solidify power in hopes that it would endure throughout and long after a leader’s reign. As we can see in this toppled statue of Saddam Hussein, this was not the fate of his dictatorship.
The first of these civilizations we’ll discuss today was Sumer. They were among the first to transform the lower valley between the Tigris and Euphrates. They also developed the earliest writing system known as cuneiform . Sumer was a collection of independent city-states all under the protection of a different deity. Like other ancient civilizations, Sumerian rulers were believed to be representatives of gods and so had divine as well as secular power. Other citizens developed specialized skills, which when brought together, created a complex urban society, or a city-state, which was self-sufficient and collectively protected itself from outside threat.
The soaring height of the ziggurat not only inspired the peoples of the Ancient Near East, but more broadly, its desire to create a monument which would ascend toward the heavens has been emulated and criticized in successive centuries. The Tower of Babylon at 270 ft. was known to be the tallest Ziggurat in ancient Mesopotamia. It was criticized later for its hubris (pride) by the Hebrews and became a cautionary tale for Christians about the dangers of rivaling God. The myth goes that as a result of this pride, God made the workers speak different languages which prevented them from communicating and finishing the tower. We can see a Renaissance homage to that in Brueghel’s work above. How does the idea of the axis mundi manifest itself today? When the Hancock tower was built, it stood at 1,506 ft as the tallest building in the work outside of New York City (antennae included). Do you believe it can be accused of the same type of hubris that ancient “skyscrapers” were also accused of?
The people of the Ancient Near East also made new strides with visual storytelling.
Around 2334, Sumer came under control of Sargon of Akkad. This was a time in which political and religious power were consolidated under one ruler. The location of Akkad is still unknown, but it is thought it was near Babylon. Sargon was an absolute ruler. His name means “true king” and the king was what Akkad was centered around. This continued for generations, though Sargon’s grandson Naram-Sin who we’ll discuss momentarily. Even this portrait of an Akkadian king demonstrates this authoritarian rule. Despite it being vandalized by an enemy in a later century (its eyes having been gouged out), it still has a steely timelessness. By balancing naturalism (or realistic representation in his facial features) with stylized patterning (in his beard and hair), it resembles a man, but an idealized, more perfect version of one. We’ll see this practice of idealizing rulers in art from later civilizations, like the Egyptians (see Menkaure above).
Akkadian power lasted for some two hundred years and thereafter shifts in power ensued. Sumer was able to briefly regain power only to be overthrown by the Elamites to the east. For another couple hundred years, these independent city-states lived side by side, until once again an authoritarian and centralized government was restored, that of Babylon under the reign of Hammurabi in the 18 th and 17 th centuries BCE.
The idea of Babylon has been perhaps more influential on popular culture than the actual ancient city-state. In Christianity, Babylon represented debauchery and evil. It (Neo-Babylonia during the 7 th century BCE) is also known for its perhaps mythical “Hanging Gardens” which, as you can see in this 16 th century recreation, stood as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. In the distance, you can see the Tower of Babylon, which in Western European eyes, represented excessive pride. Either way, in the collective imagination, Babylon stands for indulgence in all kinds of worldly pleasures.
In reality, the Babylonians made many contributions to our modern concept of an organized and just, if ruthless, society. “to cause justice to prevail in the land and to destroy the wicked and evil, that the strong might not oppress the weak, nor the weak the strong”
This war-like authoritarian rule culminated in the Assyrian empire who took over Mesopotamia by 900 BCE. Their rule extended far and wide up to the Nile river in Egypt and back to Asia Minor. These lamassu (man-headed bulls) guarded the gate of Sargon’s elaborate royal palace in Dur Sharrukin (modern-day Khorsobad, Iraq) and covered about 25 acres. Their large, imposing presence was intended to protect the king and ward of enemies. Assyria was highly militaristic and constantly under threat of attack. In fact, it focused itself so entirely on its military strength that it neglected other life-sustaining practices like agriculture, which ultimately led to its downfall.
How do contemporary representations of political and presidential authority compare with ancient ones?
In the 6 th century BCE, Cyrus of Persia captured Babylon. Cyrus was the founder of the Achaemenid Dynasty and so the founder of the Persian Dynasty. Persia, as you learned in the introduction to Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis , was the name given to modern-day Iran until 1935 when the Shah of Iran changed it to “Iran”. Persia even conquered Egypt, and by the 5 th century, had become the largest empire in history.
With the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great in the 4 th century BCE, a period of Greek and Roman rule over much of the Ancient Near East ensued.
Lecture 2, Ancient Near East
Relief of Ashburbanipal ca. 660 BCE, AssyriaAncient Near East U.S. Marines topple statue of Saddam Hussein, April 2003, Iraq
AncientNearEast Maps Ancient Near East & Middle East
Ancient Near East• 3500-330BCE• “Fertile Crescent” of Mesopotamia (land between Tigris and Euphrates Persia Rivers)• Foundation of Western civilization• City-states and empires• Agriculture (wheel & plow; control floods and irrigate fields)• Specialized labor and social & religious hierarchies• Writing, mathematics, Map of Ancient Near East architecture• Centralized worship (polytheistic) and government• Competed for power
Ancient Near East - SumerCuneiform = a system ofwriting using wedged-shaped characters inciseda soft clay tablet, thenbaked or allowed toharden Ziggurat at Ur, ca. 2100BCE. Fig. 1-11. Sumerian inscription, 2600 BCE
Ancient Near East - Sumer Ziggurat at Ur, ca. 2100BCE. Fig. 1-11.• God’s temple as city center (religious, economic, administrative)• Ziggurat platform• Ur most notable and best-preserved• Monumental mud-brick construction• Base 50 ft high, ramps converge on gate with adjacent towers• Temple for god on top (no longer there)• Cella (central hall) in Statuettes of two worshippers. 2’ 6” temple for priests (only gypsum inlaid with allowed exclusive few) shell and• Votive offerings placed limestone ca. 2700BCE inside (gendered, offer Fig. 1-13. specific prayer to deity on donor’s behalf
Axis Mundi – From Earth to HeavenPieter Brueghel the Elder, Tower of Babel1563, Dutch, oil John Hancock Center, Chicago, 1965-68
Soldiers march captivesAncient Near East - Sumer and present them to king Standard of Ur ca. 2600 BCE Fig. 1-14. “War side” Chariots trample enemies“Peace side”Men carryprovisionson back; animalsand fish broughtto banquet(top register)
Standard of Ur (from side)Ancient Near East - Sumer ca. 2600BCE• Burial good accompanying aristocracy/royalty (cemetery at Ur)• Rectangular box (function uncertain)• Mounted on pole as military standard?• Inlaid with shell, lapus lazuli (rich blue stone) and red limestone• Historical narrative on two sides (read from left to Chris right and bottom to top) Ware from• War , conquest & victory Cinefamily celebration (banquet) Ca. 2008• Registers of space (3 bands) From Giotto’s Arena Chapel• Hierarchy of scale (king) Italy, 1305
Ancient Near East -Akkad Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?), ca. 2490-2472 BCE, Egyptian Head of an Akkadian ruler, ca. 2250- 2200BCE. Fig. 1-15.
Ancient Near East -Akkad• Divine kingship and its attributes• Stele (carved stone slab, commemorates an event or marks a grave)• Shows defeat of Lullubi (an Iranian people)• Naram-Sin leads his army up a mountain while trampling his enemies• Wears horned helmet (attribute of a god)• Organization of army vs. versus disarray of enemy• Composite view (frontal helmet, head profile, chest frontal, legs in profile)• Axis mundi (reaching toward heavens)• Figures on tiers within landscape (innovative)• Hierarchy of scale Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, ca. 2254- 2218BCE, Fig. 1-16.
Ancient NearEast - Babylon Hammurabi and Shamash, detail of the stele of Hammurabi, ca. 1780BCE. Fig. 1-17.
Ancient NearEast - Babylon Martin Heemskerck, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, 16th century
D.W. Griffith Intolerance (The Fall of Babylon) 1916http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgQpI-jpJao
Ancient Near East –Babylon• Hammurabi most powerful king• A ruthless leader, now known for his law code (282 commercial & property laws)• Cuneiform below (3,500 lines)• King Hammurabi and god Shamash (sun god, flames from shoulders)• Hieratic scale (Shamash larger)• Symbols of authority (measuring rod)• Composite view with some foreshortening (diagonal bands in beard) 22. If any one is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death. 129. If a mans wife be surprised (in flagrante delicto) with another man, both shall be tied and thrown into the water, but the husband may pardon his wife and the king his slaves. 196. If a man put out the eye of another Stele of Hammurabi, ca., 1780BCE man, his eye shall be put out.
Ancient Near East: Assyria in High reliefAppear stillfrom frontand movingfrom side(5 legs,conceptualrepresentation) Lamassu, from citadel of Sargon II, Khorsabad, Iraq, 720 BCE, 13’10”
Ancient Near East: Assyria Ashurbanipal hunting lions, North Palace, Ninevah, Iraq, ca. 645-640BCE. Fig. 1-19.
Ancient Near East: Assyria• Low relief sculpture• In palace citadels• Narrative scenes• Naturalism (man & animal)• Controlled hunt (lions released from cages in arena) Ashurbanipal hunting lions, ca. 645-640BCE. Fig. 1-19.• Warfare and hunting to show ruler’s power• Lions appear heroic despite their agony• Sympathy or celebration of king?
Images of Authority U.S. Congressman Paul RyanPresident George W. Bush, from“Mission Accomplished”, 2003 The Situation Room, Pete Souza, May 1, 2011
Ancient Near East: Achaemenid Persia Persepolis, ca. 521-465BCE. Iran. Fig. 1-21.
Ancient Near East: Achaemenid Persia • Citadel complex • Home to king and court • Fortified and elevated (on high plateau) • Enter through monumental gateway (“Gate of All Lands”) • Assyrian-inspired man-bulls (like lamassu) flanked entrance Persepolis, ca. 521- • Audience hall (apadana) could 465BCE. Fig. 1-21. hold thousands • Relief sculpture of processions (include nobles, reps of subject nations bringing gifts) From apadana, detail of • Influence of Greek art through processional frieze, trade (drapery) Persepolis • Destroyed by conqueror Alexander the Great (Greek)
Active Learning Project Persepolis Marjane Satrapi, 2000-07http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1LPToZPf5c&feature=related