A vast corpus of works of art was produced by the peoples of the ancient Near East, the ‘cradle of civilization’, including royal residences, monumental temples, rock reliefs, steles, statues, cylinder seals, carved ivories, and cuneiform tablets. An equally wide-ranging assortment of raw materials was used to create these artifacts and monuments—clay, rock, semi-precious stones, metals, ivory, minerals, and pigments—using a variety of technologies of production.
This course offers an introduction to the art, architecture, and visual cultures of the ancient Near East from the third millennium BCE through the end of the Iron Age. For this course, Near East is understood in a broad sense, including primarily Mesopotamia, the Iranian and Syro-Anatolian highlands, as well as the Levantine coast and Egypt. Studies will include such monuments as the Uruk vase, Sumerian temples, the stele of Hammurabi, the statues of Gudea, carved ivories from Megiddo, Egyptian temple complexes in the New Kingdom period, Hieroglyphic Luwian inscriptions from Tell Tayinat, Assyrian royal palaces, and Achaemaenid court style art and architecture. Through an overview of noteworthy cultural periods, we will explore the practices by which these artifacts and monuments were made, the cultural value of their raw material components, their life histories and modes of circulation, and their significance within the larger social and political climate of the ancient Near East.
Lecture and readings will help to develop skills in conducting visual and formal analysis of works of art, and to interpret these works from culturally and historically sensitive perspectives. The course will draw primarily upon the archaeological evidence, yet ancient textual sources will also be brought in to the discussion, for their written content as well as the role they played as material culture. Visits to view the collections of the Oriental Institute Museum will supplement visual materials provided in class and reading assignments.