Hittite art and architecture

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Hittite art and architecture

Hittite art and architecture, works of art and structures created by the ancient Hittites

Background

The Hittite invaders of central Anatolia (the area that is present-day W Turkey) came from the east c.2000 BC and by 1400 BC were masters of all of Asia Minor. Their most important period of artistic activity lasted from 1450 to 1200 BC The art of the Hittite Empire merged stylistically with Syrian art gradually, beginning in the 11th cent. BC The modern interest in Hittite culture was aroused in the mid-19th cent. by the Rev. Archibald Henry Sayre of Oxford, England.

Art of the Hittite Empire

Hittite art drew upon far earlier sources developed in Sumer and Babylon (see Sumerian and Babylonian art) and upon local Anatolian culture of the 3d millennium BC, characterized by elaborate gold and bronze ornamental work found at Alacahöyük and earlier Neolithic remains found at Çatalhöyük dating from the 7th millennium BC The Hittites quickly assimilated many aspects of the cultures they overran. They adopted a pantheon of Mesopotamian and N Syrian gods and represented them in their art—the males with high pointed hats, short-skirted robes, and boots with long, curling toes, and the females with long, pleated robes and square hats.

The Hittites were accomplished carvers and metalworkers. Among the most impressive late representatives of Hittite deities is a series of ornaments from Carchemish made to adorn a royal golden robe; they are carved in steatite and lapis lazuli and mounted in gold cloisons, each 5/8 in. (14.5 cm) high (7th cent. BC; British Mus.). The Hittites adapted the Babylonian cuneiform to their language and also employed an elaborate hieroglyphic script for the engraving of monuments.

Although animal figures are to be found in abundance in the artistic remains of the Hittites, their chief concern was human activity, particularly religious ritual. At the Great Sanctuary of Yazilikaya near Boğazköy is a magnificent series of mythological scenes in carved rock depicting lions and sphinxes attending gods and goddesses. At Ivriz another rock relief represents King Warbalawa praying before the god Tarhan, a capped and booted figure hung about with grapes and holding grain to symbolize fertility (8th cent. BC).

There remain fewer representations of royal domestic life, including a hunting scene from Alacahöyük (200 BC, Archaelogical Mus., Ankara), a family procession with King Araras with his children and their nurse and pets from Carchemish (750 BC), and a few polychrome vase paintings from Bitik, near Ankara, one of which is thought to depict a marriage. Other vases were made in animal shapes (e.g., duck vase, c.1700 BC, from Beycesultan, Archaeological Mus., Ankara) and in the form of domestic items (e.g., boot vase, 19th cent. BC, from Kültepe, Archaeological Mus., Ankara). A minor art of considerable development was the signet seal, generally containing figures and a cuneiform inscription, which the Hittites used instead of the cylinder seal popular with neighboring cultures.

Hittite Architecture

The principal architectural remnant of the Hittite civilization is at Boğazköy, where temple structures and the city walls may be seen. The Hittites developed the bit-hilani, a porticoed entrance hall built with a stairway approach flanked by pillars. Another characteristic form was the double gateway with corbeled arch, decorated with friezes and protected on either side by a threatening beast figure. Among the best-known of these is the lion gate at Hattuşaş, the ancient Hittite capital (c.1600 BC). These gate figures were later to be copied and used in the churches of Western Europe. In building interiors wall painting was evidently practiced with considerable sophistication, but only a few fragments of this work remain, principally at Boğazköy and Atchana in N Syria.

See Assyrian art; Phoenician art.

Bibliography

See E. Akurgal, The Art of the Hittites (tr. 1962); C. J. Du Ry, Art of the Ancient Near and Middle East (1969).

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