Art and architecture of Assyria


Art and architecture of Assyria

Assyria flourished from the Old Assyrian period in the Middle Bronze Age until the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the Early Iron Age.

Building materials

In Babylonia, an abundance of brick, and lack of stone, led to greater use of mudbrick; Babylonian temples are massive structures of crude brick, supported by buttresses, the rain being carried off by drains. One such drain at Ur was made of lead. The use of brick led to the early development of the pilaster and column, and of frescoes and enamelled tiles. The walls were brilliantly coloured, and sometimes plated with zinc or gold, as well as with tiles. Painted "terra-cotta" cones for torches were also embedded in the plaster.

Assyria, imitating Babylonian architecture, also built its palaces and temples of brick, even when stone was the natural building material of the country — faithfully preserving the brick platform, necessary in the marshy soil of Babylonia, but little needed in the north.

As time went on, however, later Assyrian architects began to shake themselves free of Babylonian influence, and to use stone as well as brick. The walls of Assyrian palaces were lined with sculptured and coloured slabs of stone, instead of being painted as in Chaldea. Three stages may be traced in the art of these "bas-reliefs": it is vigorous but simple under Ashurnasirpal II, careful and realistic under Sargon II, and refined but wanting in boldness under Ashurbanipal.

In Babylonia, in place of the "bas relief", there is greater use of three-dimensional figures in the round — the earliest examples being the statues from Telloh, that are realistic if somewhat clumsy. The paucity of stone in Babylonia made every pebble precious, and led to a high perfection in the art of gem-cutting.

Two seal-cylinders from the age of Sargon of Akkad are among the best examples of their kind. One of the first remarkable specimens of early metallurgy to be discovered by archaeologists is the silver vase of Entemena. At a later epoch, great excellence was attained in the manufacture of such jewellery as earrings and bracelets of gold. Copper, too, was worked with skill; indeed, it is possible that Babylonia was the original home of copper-working.

The people were famous at an early date for their embroideries and rugs.

The forms of Assyrian pottery are graceful; the porcelain, like the glass discovered in the palaces of Nineveh, was derived from Egyptian models. Transparent glass seems to have been first introduced in the reign of Sargon. Stone, clay and glass were used to make vases, and vases of hard stone have been dug up at Telloh similar to those of the early dynastic period of Egypt.

ee also

*Babylonia and Assyria
*Sumerian architecture

"This article was originally based on content from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica. Update as needed."


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