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Sumer was an ancient Chalcolithic civilization that saw its artistic styles change throughout different periods in its history. Although the historical records in the region do not go back much further than ca. Here, three separate cultures fused—the peasant Ubaidian farmers, the nomadic Semitic-speaking pastoralists farmers who raise livestock , and fisher folk. It also allowed for a much greater population density, which required an extensive labor force and a division of labor with many specialized arts and crafts.
An early form of wedge-shaped writing called cuneiform developed in the early Sumerian period. During this time, cuneiform and pictograms suggest the abundance of pottery and other artistic traditions. In addition to the production of vessels , clay was also used to make tablets for inscribing written documents.
Metal also served various purposes during the early Sumerian period. Smiths used a form of casting to create the blades for daggers. On the other hand, softer metals like copper and gold could be hammered into the forms of plates, necklaces, and collars. Stele of the Vultures : Battle formations on a fragment of the Stele of the Vultures. Example of Sumerian pictorial cuneiform writing. By the late fourth millennium BCE, Sumer was divided into about a dozen independent city-states delineated by canals and other boundary makers.
At each city center stood a temple dedicated to the particular patron god or goddess of the city. The Ubaid period is marked by a distinctive style of painted pottery, as seen in the example below, produced domestically on a slow wheel. This style eventually spread throughout the region. During this time, the first settlement in southern Mesopotamia was established at Eridu by farmers who first pioneered irrigation agriculture. Eridu remained an important religious center even after nearby Ur surpassed it in size.
The transition from the Ubaid period to the Uruk period is marked by a gradual shift to a great variety of unpainted pottery mass-produced by specialists on fast wheels. The trough below is an example of pottery from this period. Uruk trough : The unpainted surface of this trough marks it as a production of the Uruk period. By the time of the Uruk period ca.
Artifacts of the Uruk civilization have been found over a wide area—from the Taurus Mountains in Turkey, to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, and as far east as Central Iran. The Uruk civilization, exported by Sumerian traders and colonists, had an effect on all surrounding peoples, who gradually developed their own comparable, competing economies and cultures.
Sumerian cities during the Uruk period were probably theocratic and likely headed by priest-kings ensis , assisted by a council of elders, including both men and women. The later Sumerian pantheon gods and goddesses was likely modeled upon this political structure. There is little evidence of institutionalized violence or professional soldiers during the Uruk period. Towns generally lacked fortified walls, suggesting little, if any, need for defense. During this period, Uruk became the most urbanized city in the world, surpassing for the first time 50, inhabitants.
The earliest king authenticated through archaeological evidence is Enmebaragesi of Kish, whose name is also mentioned in the Gilgamesh epic ca. Cities became walled and increased in size as undefended villages in southern Mesopotamia disappeared. Although ceramics developed in East Asia c. The Ubaid period is marked by a distinctive style of fine quality painted pottery which spread throughout Mesopotamia. Ceramists produced vases, bowls, and small jars domestically on slow wheels, painting unique abstract des on the fired clay. Experts differentiate the Ubaid period from the Uruk period by the style of pottery produced in each era.
As such, ceramists could produce pottery more quickly, leading to the mass production of standardized, unpainted styles of vessels. As the Akkadian Empire overtook the Sumerian city-states , ceramists continued to produce bowls, vases, jars, and other objects in a variety of shapes and sizes. Like Uruk pottery, the surfaces of these objects were left unpainted, although some vessels appear to have a form of abstract reliefs on the surface.
This photograph displays the various forms including a form that resembles a present-day cake stand that pottery took during the Akkadian Empire. As in eras, clay was also used to produce writing tablets that were incised with styluses fashioned from blunted reeds.
Often, tablets were used for record-keeping the ancient version of an office memo. Like other ceramic objects, tablets could be fired in a kiln to produce a permanent form if the text was believed ificant enough to preserve. The tablets in the photograph below contain information about farm animals and workers. Administrative texts in cuneiform writing : A collection of administrative texts in cuneiform writing on display at the Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago. In this photograph, a bowl, a jar, and a goblet show remnants of paint on their exteriors. While the purposes that Mesopotamian sculpture served remained relatively unchanged for years, the methods of conveying those purposes varied greatly over time.
The current archaeological record dates sculpture in Mesopotamia the tenth millennium BCE, before the dawn of civilization. Sculptural forms include humans, animals, and cylinder seals with cuneiform writing and imagery in the round or as reliefs. Materials range from terra cotta , stones like alabaster and gypsum, and metals like copper and bronze. Because the artists of the hunter-gatherer era were nomadic , the sculptures they produced were small and lightweight.
Even after cultures discovered agricultural methods, such as irrigation and animal domestication, artists continued to produce small sculptures. The seated female figure below c. Like many prehistoric female figures, the features of this sculpture suggest that it was used in fertility rituals.
Its breasts are accentuated, and its legs are spread in a position that might resemble a woman in labor. While the artist emphasized areas of the body related to reproduction, he or she did not add facial features or feet to the figure. Female statuette from Samarra c. Spirituality and communication are reflected in sculptures dating the Uruk period BCE of the late prehistoric era. Scholars believe that the gypsum Uruk trough was used as part of an offering to Inanna, the goddess of fertility, love, war, and wisdom.
In addition to reliefs of animals, reliefs of reed bundles, sacred objects associated with Inanna, adorn the exterior of the trough. For these reasons, scholars do not believe the trough was used for agricultural purposes. Animals, along with forms of writing, also appear on early cylinder seals, which were carved from stones and used to notarize documents. Officials or their scribes rolled the seals on wet clay tablets as a form of ature. Cylinder seals were also worn as jewelry and have been found along with precious metals and stones in the tombs of the elite members of society. The trough, cylinder seals, and various other sculptures of the Uruk period serve as examples of the rich narrative imagery that arose during this time.
Uruk-period cylinder seal with stamped clay tablet BCE : An Uruk-period cylinder seal and stamped clay tablet featuring monstrous lions and lion-headed eagles, on display at the Louvre Museum. The Uruk period also marked an evolution in the depiction of the human body, as seen in the Mask of Warka c.
Like most sculptures produced during the time, the sculpture was originally painted in an attempt to make it look lifelike. Uruk Head, also known as the Mask of Warka c. Although artists still used clay and stone, copper became the dominant medium. Subject matter focused on spiritual matters, war, and social scenes. A cylinder seal discovered in the royal tomb of Queen Puabi depicts two registers of a palace banquet scene punctuated by cuneiform script, marking a growing complexity in the imagery of this form of notarization.
Each register features hieratic scale, in which the queen upper register and the king lower register are larger than their subjects. Cylinder seal and stamped clay fragment from the tomb of Queen Puabi c. Each figure is set apart from his or her subjects through hieratic scale. Scholars believe that lyres were used in burial ceremonies and that the music that was played held religious ificance. The lapis lazuli, shell, red limestone decoration, and the head of the bull are original. The eyes are lapis lazuli and shell. The beard and hair are lapis lazuli. A lyre of the same type is shown on the Standard of Ur.
Sculptures in human form were also used as votive offerings in temples. Among the best known are the Tell Asmar Hoard, a group of 12 sculptures in the round depicting worshipers, priests, and gods. Worshipers, as in the image below, stand with their arms in front of their chests and their hands in the position of holding offerings. One common feature is the large hollowed out eye sockets, which were once inlaid with stone to make them appear lifelike. The eyes held spiritual ificance, especially that of the gods, which represented awesome otherworldly power.
Votive figure of a male worshiper from Tell Asmar BCE : The votive figure—made from alabaster, shell, black limestone, and bitumen—depicts a male worshiper of Enil, a powerful Mesopotamian god. During the period of the Akkadian Empire BCE , sculpture of the human form grew increasingly naturalistic, and its subject matter increasingly about politics and warfare. A cast bronze portrait head believed to be that of King Sargon combines a naturalistic nose and mouth with stylized eyes, eyebrows, hair, and beard. Although the stylized features dominate the sculpture, the level of naturalism was unprecedented.
Head of an Akkadian ruler, probably Sargon BCE : This portrait combines naturalistic and stylized facial features and was cast using the lost-wax method. The eye sockets were once inlaid. The Victory Stele of Naram Sin provides an example of the increasingly violent subject matter in Akkadian art, a result of the violent and oppressive climate of the empire. Here, the king is depicted as a divine figure, as ified by his horned helmet. In typical hieratic fashion, Naram Sin appears larger than his soldiers and his enemies.
The king stands among dead or dying enemy soldiers as his own troops look on from a lower vantage point. The figures are depicted in high relief to amplify the dramatic ificance of the scene. On the right hand side of the stele, cuneiform script provides narration. His dead and dying enemies surround him while his own soldiers passively observe.
The most prominent cultures in the ancient Near East during this period were Babylonia and Assyria. Clay was the dominant medium during this time, but stone was also used. The most common surviving forms of second millennium BCE Mesopotamian art are cylinder seals, relatively small free-standing figures, and reliefs of various sizes. These included cheap plaques, both religious and otherwise, of molded pottery for private homes.
Babylonian culture somewhat preferred sculpture in the round to reliefs.Sumeria nude
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