When Writing Met Art: From Symbol to Story

By Denise Schmandt-Besserat | Go to book overview

FOUR
Wall and Floor Painting

Literacy gives people the power to focus a little way in front of an image so that we take in the
whole image or picture at a glance. Non-literate people have no such acquired habit and do not
look at objects in our way. Rather, they scan objects and images as we do the printed page, seg-
ment by segment. Thus they have no point of view. They are wholly with the object.

—MARSHALL MCLUHAN1

FLOOR AND WALL paintings constitute a fourth form of art shared by preliterate and literate cultures of the Near East.2 Study of these works is not easy because, like the buildings they decorated, the dry frescoes have been subject to decay, collapse, and destruction. Only a few have survived and they are generally in a poor and fragmentary state. On the other hand, floor and wall paintings are of special interest because unlike seals or pottery paintings they were not confined to a small space, and thus they constitute some of the largest and most complex ancient Near Eastern art compositions. As in the preceding chapters, I will first analyze representative preliterate examples and then compare and contrast them to characteristic literate compositions.


Preliterate Wall and Floor Paintings

Floors and walls of prehistoric Near Eastern houses were sometimes decorated with paintings drawn from a limited repertory of motifs. The simplest and most popular decoration involved covering walls or floors with solid white or red color. This was done all along the Fertile Crescent as early as the Mesolithic period, ca. 10,000 B.C.— at Ain Mallaha, Palestine,3 for instance—and continued well into the late Chalcolithic, ca. 4000–3800 B.C., at sites such as Can Hasan, Anatolia,4 or Tepe Gawra, Iraq.5 During the Neolithic period, ca. 7500–5500 B.C., red walls and floors are found as far south

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When Writing Met Art: From Symbol to Story
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction- Writing and Art 1
  • I - How Writing Shaped Art 13
  • One - Pottery Painting 15
  • Two - Glyptic 27
  • Three - The Uruk Vase- Sequential Narrative 41
  • Four - Wall and Floor Painting 47
  • II - How Art Shaped Writing 61
  • Five - Funerary Inscriptions 63
  • Six - Votive and Dedicatory Inscriptions 71
  • Seven - The Stele of Hammurabi 87
  • Conclusion- The Interface between Writing and Art 101
  • Notes 107
  • Bibliography 117
  • Index 129
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