Notebook, 1993-

Manual of Oriental Antiquities - Babelon, Ernest. Librarian of the Department of Medals and Antiques in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. Manual of Oriental Antiquities, including the Architecture, Sculpture, and Industrial Arts of Chaldæ, Assyria, Persia, Syria, Judæ, Phœnicia, and Carthage. London: H. Grevel and Co. 1906.

The Chaldæn -- Assyria -- Elamites (Archeological Discoveries at Souza) -- The Phœnicians & The Cypriots -- The Hittites

Assyrian (cont.)

Assyrian - Painting and Enamelling

The bricks which composed the structure of the walls in Chaldæn or Assyrian edifices were nowhere visible. Above the slabs sculptured in bas-relief and under the spring of the vaults a white stucco was applied, made of plaster and lime, like that still used by the Orientals to coat their houses; this custom explains the phrase "whited sepulchres" in the Gospels. It was doubtless on a plaster of this nature that the mysterious hand of which the Book of Daniel speaks traced out Belshazzar's sentence of condemnation on the night of the ill-famed banquet: the sacred writer says that the hand wrote "on the plaster of the wall." This stucco was often decorated with paintings in distemper, at any rate in the principal chambers, above the line of the bas-reliefs.

Modern explorers have collected some fragments of these frescoes or decorative paintings; at Warka, among the ruins of the temple called Wuswas, Loftus acquired some which belong to the remotest Chaldæn period. At Khorsabad, V. Place found on some pieces of stucco elegant rosettes formed by the application and juxtaposition of very decided colours: white, yellow, green, red, and black. One of the most remarkable examples of this painting is a border of bulls painted white on a yellow ground, their form being relieved by a broad black outline [fig. 87]. Above is a row of blue battlements; below festoons of many colours. The effect is harmonious, though the tints are flat, and in spite of the absence of all modeling in the figures. [Perrot and Chipiez, History of Art in Chaldæa and Assyria, vol ii., p. 294 ff.]

The application of stucco of different colours is particularly conspicuous in the construction of the staged towers, the terraces of which are, beginning from the lowest, white, black, red, yellow, vermilion, silver and gold. In the interior of the chambers, to avoid the disagreeable contrast between the uniform whiteness of the stone bas-reliefs and the brilliance of the many-coloured paintings, the fashion was to colour the figures in the bas-reliefs themselves. Some traces of colouring may still be recognized in the sculptures preserved in our museums, and though it is true that they are being gradually effaced, they were quite evident when the slabs were disinterred. The beard, hair, weapons, and even the face and costume of the figures were coloured in a similar manner to the paintings on plaster, so that this painted stucco seemed to be the continuation of the bas-reliefs. There are, for instance, evident [p. 115] traces of vermilion paint [Cf. Ezekiel xxiii. 14] on the figures of demons in the Assyrian basement of the British Museum. The Assyrians obeyed the same laws of aesthetics as the medi*val artists, who applied polychrome colouring to their marble or stone statues, to bring them into perfect harmony with the rich decoration which filled their cathedrals from the floor to the keystone of the vault.

Enamelled brick played the same part as painting in fresco, only it was more solid and was better able to resist the action of damp. In Chaldæ, where it rains oftener than in Assyria, greater use has been made of enamelled brick than in the latter country. The Ninevite artists scarcely ever employed this method of decoration, except round the principal doorways and to make an elegant border for the archivolt. The bricks of brilliant colours, which are conspicuous from a distance, are ornamented with floral designs and rosettes in exquisite taste. In Sargon's palace [p. 116] V. Place found nearly all the bricks of the archivolt of a door. Between two borders of white rosettes is a broad frieze containing winged genii and symbolical animals bearing th same attributes as the similar figures in the bas-reliefs [fig. 88]. On the lower plinth of the chief door of the hareem there figured on the enameled bricks a lion, an eagle, a bull, and a plough; at the turn of the angle stood the king. At Nimroud most remarkable enameled fragments were also discovered depicting portions of soldiers, weapons and chariots, and even parts of inscriptions. On a single brick, found by Layard, a king is seen offering a libation and attended by two warriors. [fig. 89]. But in general each figure was made up of a large number of bricks, since the restricted dimensions of a baked brick did not allow more than a part of the subject to be placed upon it. The design was executed and the vitrifiable colours applied before the baking; the artist had to apportion to each brick the different parts of a figure in such a manner that when they were put together there might be perfect agreement in the lines which had to join; the marks to indicate their position, set on the backs of the tiles, made this operation, which [p. 117] required great technical skill, much easier. At Babylon, where enameled brick played a far greater part in the decoration of buildings than at Nineveh, the device was adopted, in order to replace coloured sculpture in stone, of stamping bricks with figures or parts of figures in relief. Imagine a slab of soft clay several square yards in size; on the surface of this the whole picture was modeled in relief as if might have been carved on stone. When the operation was finished, the slab of clay was cut into rectangular pieces of the size of ordinary bricks. These pieces, provided with a mark to indicate their position, were then separately coated with colour and varnish, and afterwards baked. Subsequently they were joined together with bitumen, which formed a strong mortar, and in this work of reconstructing the design the workman was guided by the position-marks. This was the first origin of the mosaics in relief made by the Greeks and Romans. The Ach*menid palaces of Susa were decorated by the same methods, and Persian artists imitated the Babylonians in their execution of the great brick bas-reliefs with which the expedition conducted by M. Dieulafoy has enriched the Louvre.

Unfortunately only unimportant fragments of bricks modeled in relief have been, down to the present time, brought to Europe. Travelers pick up hundreds of fragments of flat enameled bricks like those at Nineveh on every mound which covers the ruins of Chaldæ. Those which have been deposited in our museums represent floral designs, rosettes, genii, animals, and human figures. Only skillfully directed excavations could bring to light complete pictures and scenes [p. 119] analogous to those displayed upon the walls of the Ninevite and Susian palaces. Diodorus, following Ctesias, relates that at Babylon, on the walls of the palace built by Nebuchadnezzar, but which he attributes to Semiramis, there were scenes of every sort painted on brick. "Animals of every kind" he says, "were here to be seen, copied according to all the rules of art with regard both to form and colour. The whole represented the hunting of various animals, the dimensions of which exceeded four cubits. In the midst was Semiramis on horseback, hurling a javelin at a panther, and beside her, her husband Ninus striking with his lance a lion which he is attacking at close quarters." Berosus is no doubt speaking of enameled bricks in his description of the paintings in the Temple of Bel, in which were seen "marvelous monsters of every sort presenting the greatest variety of forms." Lastly, the prophet Ezekiel, who lived at Babylon, says, speaking of Jerusalem: "she saw men pourtrayed upon the wall, the images of the Chaldæns pourtrayed with vermilion, girded with girdles upon their loins, exceeding in dyed attire upon their heads, all of them princes to look to, after the manner of the Babylonians of Chaldæ."

The art of enamelling brick, handed down by the Babylonians to the Persians of the Achæmenid period, long remained flourishing in the East. The decoration of the mosques of Broussa, Tabriz, and Ispahan, which excites the admiration of every traveler, is based on the same principles as that of the Ninevite, Babylonian, and Susian palaces. Only, instead of figures of living beings, which the Koran does not tolerate, the enamelled [p. 119] tiles bear religious inscriptions in ornamental Cufic characters, and elegant designs of flowers and trees. Every one has had the opportunity of seeing specimens from the workshops which were still flourishing in the last century in Asia Minor, and the productions of which adorn the palaces an the richest mosques of the Mussulman world. This art is directly derived from the Chadæo-Assyrians, and it is interesting to observe that their successors, down to our own times, have not made the smallest progress in it. [p. 120]



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