The Art of the Middle East Including Persia, Mesopotamia and Palestine

By Leonard Woolley | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
ASSYRIA AND NEO-BABYLONIA

Throughout the long period of Kassite domination of Babylonia, which ended with the sack of the city by Tukulti-Enurta of Assyria in about 1230 B.C., and throughout the succeeding period of constant warfare waged with alternate success between the two powers, and of frequent inroads by the Elamites, art in Mesopotamia seems to have been dead. Most of the few Babylonian monuments that remain to us are boundary-stones, kudurrus, carved in dull repetition with the symbols of the tutelary gods; of aesthetic interest there is nothing at all. The Kassites were presumably barbarous at the time of their arrival in Babylonia and to whatever extent they assimilated the culture of the country they never had the imagination to carry on its art traditions.

PLATE P. 171

The Assyrians also must have been a relatively barbarous people, and they were for long too engrossed in the struggle to obtain mastery by force of arms to have the leisure, or the inclination, to develop what they had learned about art from their early contacts with Sumer; certainly very little remains to suggest any such development.

A stone altar of Tukulti-Enurta I ( 1250-1210 B.C.), found at Assur, is in the Assyrian spirit in that the god whom the king worships is represented by a symbol only -- a foretaste of that 'cold formalism which did not allow a man to meet the gods face to face but only to perform the established rites before their statues and emblems;'1) but although the Assyrian features are faithfully rendered the style of the sculptor is not distinctively Assyrian. A second altar or plinth from Assur, of about the same date, has figures of a king and two tutelary deities which are almost purely Babylonian, but beneath these there is a band of relief with men and horses climbing over mountains which is very much in keeping with later Assyrian art. A torso of a nude goddess, of the time of Ashur-bel-kala ( 1092-1079 B.C.), is probably not Assyrian at all. The 'Broken Obelisk' of Adad­ nirari II ( 911-899 B.C.) bears a relief showing a king (perhaps Tiglath-pileser I) holding in one hand a cord made fast to the nostrils of four suppliant prisoners; above him are the symbols of the five chief gods; from the sun's disk a hand comes out presenting a bow and arrows to the king. In this we can see Egyptian influence, but both

Sculpture

-179-

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