Art and Architecture
More than 4,000 years ago the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers began to teem with life–first the Sumerian, then the Babylonian, Assyrian, Chaldean, and Persian empires. Here too excavations have unearthed evidence of great skill and artistry.
From Sumeria have come examples of fine works in marble, diorite, hammered gold, and lapis lazuli. Of the many portraits produced in this area, some of the best are those of Gudea, ruler of Lagash.
Some of the portraits are in marble, others, such as the one in the Louvre in Paris, are cut in gray-black diorite.
Dating from about 2400 BC, they have the smooth perfection and idealized features of the classical period in Sumerian art.
Sumerian art and architecture was ornate and complex. Clay was the Sumerians’ most abundant material. Stone, wood, and metal had to be imported.
Art was primarily used for religious purposes. Painting and sculpture was the main median used.
The famous votive stone/ marble sculptures from Tell Asmar represent tall, bearded figures with huge, staring eyes and long, pleated skirts.
Enlarged eyes were found on many statues
The tallest figure is about 30 inches in height. He represents the god of vegetation. The next tallest represents a mother goddess-mother goddesses were common in many ancient cultures. They were worshipped in the hope that they would bring fertility to women and to crops. (Another connection to African culture.)
The next largest figures are priests. The smallest figures are worshippers – a definite hierarchy of size. This is an example of artistic iconography. We learn to read picture symbols—bodies are cylindrical and scarcely differentiated by gender, with their uplifted heads and hands clasped. This is a pose of supplication-wanting or waiting for something.
Ur yielded much outstanding Sumerian work, e.g., a wooden harp with the head of a bull on top, showing mythological scenes in gold and mosaic inlay on the sound box (c.2650 B.C., Univ. of Penn., Philadelphia).
Sumerian techniques and motifs were widely available because of the invention of cuneiform writing before 3000 B.C.
This system of writing developed before the last centuries of the 4th millennium B.C. in the lower Tigris and Euphrates valley, most likely by the Sumerians. The characters consist of arrangements of wedge-like strokes, generally on clay tablets. The history of the script is strikingly like that of the Egyptian hieroglyphic.
Among other Sumerian arts forms were the clay cylinder seals used to mark documents or property. They were highly sophisticated.