Art From the Ancient Near East – Babylonia

The history of art, in its various forms, is incomplete unless it includes the chapters of the classic art of the Ancient Babylonia (now Southern Iraq). Lying between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, Babylonia was a state in Lower Mesopotamia with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia was amongst the first civilizations in the world to have developed a centralized Government with taxation rules in place and a well-defined law & order system in as early as 2000 BC.

The golden age of this civilization started in the eighteenth century BC, under the four-decade long rule of Hammurabi, and lasted until the sixth century BC. Hammurabi's death however, led to a breakup of the empire and Babylonia suffered invasions from various countries, eventually leading to the Assyrians ruling on the state for several years. The year 626 BC witnessed the crowning of Nabopolassar, whose leadership helped Babylonia to become an independent state in its own right. His son Nebuchadnezzar continued to move on his father's footsteps. He took Babylonia to the pinnacle of success, resurrecting it as the most authoritative supreme rule in the Ancient near East region. Under Nabopolassar's rule, a new form of art was born, which included 'polychrome-glazed brick walls,' modeled in relief.

The knowledge of such a sophisticated civilization went into oblivion however, with the passage of time. It was only in the nineteenth century that archeologists rediscovered the lost treasures of the great Mesopotamian Civilization. Excavations revealed 'terra cotta plaques' with the inscriptions of the daily chores of a common Babylonian. The archeologists also found a sculpture at Susa (1792-50 BC, Louvre) that many believe to be of Hammurabi himself.

The Ancient Near East's Babylonian Art possessed not only remarkable antiquity and opulence, but also great diversity. It featured art forms, such as carpentry, glass making, gem cutting, tapestry, and specialized tool making. The paucity of stones made the Babylonian artisans see opportunity in the abundant clay, which was turned into bricks for use in architectural designs. This innovative use of 'clay bricks' became instrumental in the development of pilaster (a pseudo-pillar), column, frescoes, and enameled tiles.

Babylonian temples were voluptuous structures with colored walls adorned with bronze, gold, tiles, and painted terra-cotta cones entrenched in the plaster. The legendary 'Ishtar Gates' of Babylonia constructed in the sixth century BC, in the honor of Nebuchadnezzar II, contain 575 elaborate reliefs of lions, dragons, and bulls. The relief of a lion is put to display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Masterpieces, such as "The Mari Gods' Sculpture," "The Tower of Babel," "the King's Palace," "the Royal Processional Roads," and the highly rated, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the "Hanging Gardens of Babylon, "glorify the artistic and the architectural brilliance of the civilization of the Ancient near East, Babylonia.

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