The Enduring Image

The Exhibition


Egypt and Mesopotamia (the land between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris) are the sites of the earliest urban civilizations, while urban planning was an innovation of the Indus Valley civilization, Ur, in the southern region of Sumer (now in Iraq) is memorable for its 'ziggurat' temple lowers and for the royal tombs. From one of these comes the headdress made with lapis lazuli which was already being traded in the early 3rd millennium BC from Afghanistan. Sumeria's distinticve writing, with typically wedge-shaped characters is known as cuneiform. Tablets shown are concerned with omens which list the connections between facial type character and fortune. Closely allied to this use of writing were Cylinder seals developed to mark property. The connections between Mesopotamian seals and those of the Indus Valley are still being explored. The remarkable carving of these seals produces a positive image when impressed in clay, like a print . the stones used, such as serpentine and chalcedony, appear to have been chosen for their attractive Colour and banding.

Other materials used in the ancient Near East include ivory for inlays on furniture. The examples here illustrate the close contact between the Levant (where they were mostly made ) and Egypt, whose artistic influence was strong. Alabaster was used for the funerary sculptures from the Yemen which, with their high degree of abstraction, appear strikingly modern. Gold was used for jewellery and for funerary face coverings, such as those from Nineveh.

The earliest stone relief on display comes form Nimrod from the palace of the Assyrian king, Ashurnasirpal II. The assertive strength and power of the Assyrian empire is clearly indicated. Other Assyrian sculptures come from Khorsabad and demonstrate contact with other parts of the ancient world, as well as the custom of keeping palace eunuchs. Persepolis in southern Iran was the capital of the Achemenids, creators of a later empire. From the famous palace there comes a relief demonstrating the great military might of the Persian king. The last sculpture is from the caravan city of Palmyra in the Syrian desert. Its position on the international trade route between Rome and the East is mirrored in the artistic influence it had on areas as far away as ancient Gandhara, in the north western Indian subcontinent.


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