Sunday, May 15, 2011

assyrian art and culture

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Assyrian Art and Culture

Art is an ancient and unique way of expression made with a creative skill giving the piece form and beauty that are often particular to a specific race and culture. Every culture has its own way of life, along with its own beliefs. These two points are major factors in the unique artwork that each culture produces. This is no less true of the ancient Assyrian culture. There is no doubt that the art produced by the Assyrians reflect that culture.

Assyrian culture was established in northern Mesopotamia, and over time began to dominate that area. In about 1400 BCE the Assyrians had become a powerful group. In years that followed they proved their dominance and power by ruthlessly taking control of neighboring countries. Opposing countries tried to defend themselves and their land but the Assyrians were too swift and violent. They kept, forcefully, spreading their way of life and by about 00 BCE they controlled most of the Mesopotamian areas. Their artistic and cultural influence was widespread, and went far past the boundaries of Mesopotamian to countries such as Egypt.1 The Assyrian power came quickly and with a vengeance but as fast as the power came, it vanished. By about 600 BCE, because of enemies inside and outside of the Assyrian empire, the Assyrian empire collapsed. However, the spread of influence that Assyria had passed on to neighboring countries, was already accomplished.

Today, there is little information known about Assyrian life. The information that has recently been gathered is based on the clues from the architecture and works of art created by that culture. The bits and pieces of information in each piece were slowly put together over a long period of time. Discovering the history of Assyria was a difficult task that has not been and probably never will be completed. As much as the art of the culture was helpful there is simply not enough for a good sense of their culture. Excavations and research should have been helpful in constructing a history of the empire, however the lack of experience and modern techniques on the part of earlier researchers has caused previous assumptions to be invalidated. The research was thrown out because of the inaccuracy of the studies. There were inaccuracies such as mistakes of dates and a great deal of research that was based on opinion rather than fact. All the new studies of the culture have been done using the art as a way of understanding the history of the empire.

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The capital cities that were built for the Assyrian Empire expressed the Assyrians’ artistic nature through their architecture of their buildings. Most Assyrian architecture is in northern Mesopotamia. The capital cities along with the culture were strategically placed between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for the empire’s protection, transportation, and water supply. This is a great area to have a culture grow successfully. The Assyrian way of life was dependent on these two rivers. In most cases each capital city that was built with sections of the massive structures partially on top of these rivers. These massive palaces took long periods of time to build. The natural resources of the Mesopotamian area were used as building materials in Assyrian architecture. The area was rich in alluvial mud but lacked stone and lumber. Sometimes stone was imported into the culture and was mostly used for the sculpting, but stone was a resource that never went to waste. These massive cities were made almost entirely of mud bricks using the labor of all the citizens’.4 The Assyrians did not experiment with their architecture like other cultures did; they only created rectangular cubes for the basis of their architecture. This made the structures fairly simple but the sizes of these palaces were amazing, all the while sending a visual message of strength and dominance.

Between about 88-854 BCE was the pinnacle of Assyrian strength. During this period, under the reign of Ashurnaisrpal II was the construction of Kalhu. Kalhu, also known today as Nimrud, was the capital city of Assyria and had shown the power of their culture. Nimrud was constructed of mud-brick with walls extending five miles long and forty-two feet high. Often these mud-bricks had words and stories inscripted on them that gave a lot of detailed history about Assyria. Inside the city walls was a world separated from the outside. A world that contained all the necessities to be self-sufficient which eliminated the need for outside travel. Dominating this world was a seven-story ziggurat or step tower that supported a religious temple at its peak. The temple, like the entrance, was an impressive and beautiful blue tinted brick that sparkled during the day.5 The Assyrian architecture was massive and heavily guarded in comparison to surrounding countries. This idea of architecture was created to send a fearful message of superiority to others.6

The Assyrian artwork is the most obvious reflection of the Assyrian culture. The majority of the ancient artworks of Assyria were sculptures, paintings or relief sculptures of scenes depicting war, kings’ tributes, Lamassus, and superiority over beasts. These artistic decorations covered the huge, plain brick walls of the palace.7 Most of the paintings, sculptures, and relief sculptures for this time period were of the king in scenes with beasts of nature. There were pictures such as The Lion Hunt and Ashurnaisrpal I at the Chase, which show the beautifully dressed and large body of the king having complete domination over the beast or the evil.8 The king would want to be shown this way because his followers would look up to him in admiration and see him as a fearless ruler. Scenes of war were also prominent. These were images that show the viewer how non-Assyrians were looked down upon, making Assyrians look dominant. These pictures in some ways were very naturalistic and showed intense emotion and gore. The most narrative pictures were found deep within the throne room of the palace. These pictures showed the goals of power that were attempted by the empire. They also showed graphic scenes of military acts on surrounding countries. This content gave excellent information about the hostility and aggressiveness of the Assyrians.10 These paintings are probably the most striking achievements of Assyrian art.

Along with paintings and architecture sculpture was greatly used. Most were low relief sculptures, also pertaining to the king, religion, war, and hunts. However, the most recognized Assyrian sculpture is an image of the winged human headed bull, also called a Lamassu. This th century sculpture was renewed to the world’s eyes in 1847 in Paris. This is a high relief sculpture that greatly epitomizes the Assyrian culture. It looks very powerful and demands attention because of its size and odd appearance. It is massive piece of work nearly reaching 18 ft. tall while most other Lamassu sculptures that have been found are around 15 ft. tall. They were placed at the entrance of the Citadel as the guardian animal, setting the scary mood of the palace. They were placed at the entrance to intimidate and give the feeling of being overpowered to anyone that wanted to enter the palace. It had strangeness because of its five legs, which showed stability, bull body, which showed strength, and with a human head and wings that showed humanity but with god-like strengths. They attempted to provoke fear in anyone who saw it. The Assyrians wanted to be feared, and this was the perfect figure to capture that feeling.11 The category of Assyrian art and architecture was a major contribution to ancient art history.1

Assyrian art had a major influence on many cultures and before their downfall, was a large and powerful. The Assyrians reigned from 00-600 BCE and were very militaristic in culture. They were warriors and their culture greatly reflects the work it had produced.

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