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

Chaldæn Art (cont.)

Statues and Bas-Reliefs

The discoveries of M. de Sarzec at Tello, and those of other explorers in Chaldæ, allow us to go back almost to the origin of sculpture in Western Asia. Our museums possess, in fact, bas-reliefs and statues belonging to a rudimentary stage of art, the remote age of which is still attested by the archaic inscriptions which accompany them, and these most ancient monuments are followed, as in the case of Egypt and Greece, by other statues and bas-reliefs which, descending a chronological scale across the ages, represent the graduated phases of artistic progress in Chaldæ before the Ninevite supremacy was imposed upon this country. Among the fragments of sculpture at Tello, that which M. Heuzey considers most primitive, and which should be placed at the head of the productions of oriental sculpture, is a bas-relief of greyish limestone, 10 in. broad and 5 in. high. Four figures alone remain of the complicated scene which decorated this stone panel. One of them is seated, with the profile turned to the left; it is a beardless man rather than a woman, and his face is half covered by an exaggerated eye seen from the front as in children's drawings. His hair consists of two long tresses falling to his shoulders, and almost to be mistaken for the lappets of the high tiara with which he is crowned. This tiara seems to be adorned with two bulls' horns. The bust is draped with a large shawl which leaves the right shoulder bare. The hand, raised to a level with the face, looks like a simple fork; it holds a cup, as if the scene represented a libation, and in fact we still see a part of the deity to whom the offering is directed. On the right a bearded man with square shoulders, crowned with a low cap, dressed in a large robe without folds, holds in his right hand a sort of club, with which he seems to deliver a blow upon the [p. 23] head of his companion, whom he seizes by the hand. It will be seen that the explanation of this picture is exceedingly doubtful; but looking from the point of view of the history of art, we must recognize in it without hesitation a fragment which comes down from remote antiquity. The relief is low, the outline of the figures is timid and uncertain, the details are disproportioned, as if the rude chisel which carved them had been held in the unskillful hands of a child; the design is full of elementary mistakes, though limestone is soft and easily worked.

A more advanced art marks the fragment of a bas-relief which M. Heuzey called "The Eagle and Lion Tablet," and which is dated by an inscription mentioning the king Ur-Nina [B.C. 2500]. An eagle is seen here with outspread wings standing upon a lion. The sculpture is equally flat and without modelling, but the graceful outline of the figures is clearly chiseled and with a surer hand; the extremities of the wing feathers of the eagle are indented, the body of the lion is remarkably correct in outline, except the head, which still remains barbarous.

A third stage of Chaldæn sculpture may be represented by the "Vulture Stela," on which the names of two kings have been read, one of whom is the son of Ur-Nina. The three fragments of this limestone stela are carved on both sides. On one of them a flock of vultures carry away human remains in their flight--heads, hands, [p. 25] and arms. The human heads denote an art which has left the gropings of childhood behind; they are entirely shaved, the nose is always aquiline, the eye of an exaggerated size and triangular. The vultures, more rudely drawn, are nevertheless well characterized by their long curved beak and their claws of exaggerated length; the markings of the feathers and wings are brought out. On another fragment of the same stela it seems that we witness the construction of a sepulchral tumulus.

Men dressed in a short tunic, fringed, and tightened at the waist, carry on their heads wicker baskets, probably containing earth to cover the pile of corpses heaped one upon the other in symmetrical and alternate rows. The third piece of the same monument seems to represent a scene of carnage. As for the back of the stela, it is less ornamented; however, on one of the fragments [fig. 13], a pole surmounted by an eagle with outspread wings is seen, and then a large human head, incomplete but highly interesting; it exhibits, from an anatomical point of view, the same [p. 25] character as the smaller heads which we have just considered; but its head-dress is a most curious feature,--a sort of tiara decorated with bulls' horns. "By an archaic conventionality," observes M. Heuzey, "these two horns are seen in profile, curved forwards and backwards; but in reality they were attached to the sides of the cap . . . . The cap is also surmounted by a crest of four large feathers, in the middle of which rises a cone decorated with a quaint head also crowned by a crescent; this little decorative head, drawn in full face, has an exceedingly long and broad nose without any sign of a mouth, so that it may be doubted whether it be the head of a man or of an animal." [Heuzey, Gazette Arch., 1884, p. 195.] The same tiara is found with unimportant modifications on Assyrian cylinders and bas-reliefs, in which it forms the head-dress of deities or pontiffs. The artistic superiority of the bas-reliefs of the Vulture Stela over the monuments quoted previously is abundantly evident, and already slows us a foretaste of the sober and vigorous art revealed to us by the large statues found in the palace of Gudea.

It was in the most spacious court of the palace that M. de Sarzec found assembled nearly all the Chaldæn statues which he had transported to the museum of the Louvre. To the number of ten, they are of blackish diorite with a bluish tinge; all are headless and bear [p. 26] inscriptions in the name of Gudea or of Ur-Bau. At the moment of discovery they were lying on the slabs of the court-yard, --on one side those which represent upright figures, on the other the seated statues. A separate head, appearing to belong to one of the statues, was also found in the same courtyard. The other heads were unearthed elsewhere, and it is impossible to say whether they had been removed from the headless statues that we know. All these heads, though exhibiting common charactaeristics, are distinguished from one another by peculiarities which disclose the surprising skill and the fecundity of the Chaldæn genius at this remote epoch. The manÍs head [fig. 14] found in the great courtyard is of life-size, the hair and beard completely shaven, as in certain Egyptian statues. The eyebrows from an exaggerated projection above enormous eyes; the skull is remarkably elongated; the mutilated nose alone prevents us from having the complete type of the Chaldæn race, with its hard features and thick, sensual lips.

In a neighbouring tell M. de Sarzec found another head of the same size and of an equally interesting type. It is less severe in aspect than the preceding [p. 27] one, but carved with equal skill. The face is round and almost smiling, the chin broad and powerful, the nose flat. The very original head-dress is composed of a woolen cap fitting closely to the head, and furnished with a thick border, which turning up, forms a sort of crown; the meshes of the woolen tissue are conventionally marked by a number of symmetrical rolls. Even at the present day in Lower Chaldæ the Christian priests of the Chaldæn rite envelop their heads in a turban of black stuff, which allows of a similar arrangement. [E. de Sarzec, Décourvertes, p. 61]

As for the headless statues, whether seated or standing, they have all the same characteristics, exhibit an identical type, and are incontestably of the same school of sculpture. Here is a personage seated on a sort of stool not fully carved out; he recalls involuntarily the Greek statues of the sacred way of the Branchidæ at Miletus, and is in the same religious attitude. A cloak without sleeves is crossed over this breast and thrown back over his shoulder; a handsome fringe, delicately [p. 28] carved, falls over the whole depth in front; the hands are clasped on the breast in the oriental posture of meditation and devotion; and bare feet are chiseled with an attention to detail never to be surpassed in later times, even by the Ninevite artists. On the knees of the personage lies a tablet intended to receive an inscription or a design. In fact, another statue like this, though of smaller proportions, holds on its knees a similar tablet, on which the plan of a fortress with its bastions and posterns is engraved in outline, just as an architect of the present day would draw it. A graduated rule, that is to say, one subdivided into fractions of unequal but proportional length, 10 3/4 in. long, is carved in relief beside the plan, for which it serves as a scale; finally, at the side lies the style with which the architect engraved his design [see fig. 53]. The standing statues answer almost to the same description; they also are bare-footed, with the hands crossed upon the breast but the arrangement of the long shawl, which seems to form the only garment of all these personages, becomes more intelligible. The Arab still drapes himself in the same fashion in his burnoos,--that garment, at once so simple and so dignified, of the shepherd of the desert. It is a piece of woolen stuff, the borders of which are adorned with a fringe; it is folded in two, and wrapped [p. 29] round the body obliquely, so that it covers one arm and leaves the other bare; the upper corner, held fast by wrapping the garment once round, is enough to keep the whole in place. We shall find this large shawl again on the Ninevite bas-reliefs, just as we shall observe the persistence and exaggeration of this sober and nervous style, which, as early as the Proto-Chaldæn epoch, lays too much stress on the muscles, and lingers with an excessive fondness over anatomical details.

The Chaldæn statues were intended to be seen all round, and not laid flat against a wall; they are completely finished behind as well as in front. Compared with the statues found in the temples of Cyprus, for instance, they show us that the artist has sought to spare neither his time nor his trouble. Amid this sobriety of treatment and this uniformity of attitudes we feel that Chaldæn art is already far from the hesitation and incorrectness of the first age; the chisel attacks the hardest stone with vigour and success; the artist's hand is experienced and sure of itself. This archaic art is above all realistic, and aims at a precise and even affected following of nature. The bare shoulder is modeled and copied with surprising truth, the hands and feet are studied even to the knuckles, the nails, the wrinkles of the skin. At the same time the figures are thick-set and, it may be said, far too short--a fact which contributes to increase the impression of strength and muscular energy produced by an attentive observation of them.

The suppleness of the Chaldæn genius at the time of Gudea appears again in a sing ular monument of the [p. 30] De Sarzec collection, which may be taken to be the foot of a vase rather than the base of a small column [fig. 18]. Small figures in high relief, nude, and seated on the ground, lean against a cylindrical stem. The best preserved figure has an oval face of rare refinement, and of a type entirely foreign to that of the large statues; with his beard cut in a point, and his head covered with a woolen turban, he looks straight in front of him with a smiling aspect; in all Assyrian sculpture no countenance of such originality could perhaps be found. We do not know what is the meaning of these little figures crouched round this sort of basin. They seem to hold the place of the winged bulls and lions or other fantastic genii, whom Assyrian art will soon multiply everywhere in the capacity of architectural supports or ornaments.

In front of the palace at Tello stood a large stone basin decorated with sculpture, some fragments of which have come down to us. This monolithic trough, 8 ft. 2 in. long by 1 ft. 7 1/2 in. broad, served, perhaps, to water the camels and the flocks which halted at the gate of Gudea's dwelling; or rather, on account of its rich ornamentation, may we believe that it was a basin consecrated to the service of the temple, like the brazen sea in the Temple of Jerusalem, or the vase of Amathus? However it may be, there were, [p. 31] on its two longer surfaces, in low relief, women with arms outstretched, holding magic vases, from which two jets of liquid gushed, on each side of an ear of corn, a graceful symbol of the proverbial fertility of Mesopotamia, enclosed by the sacred streams of the Tigris and Euphrates, which were adored under the name of Naharaim, the two rivers par excellence. The fragment reproduced here [fig. 19] shows us that the Proto-Chaldæns already gave to flowing water the conventional form of undulating lines [see also fig. 34]; the women is drawn with surprising truth. [L. Heuzey, Un palais chaldéen, pp. 59-117]. The same technical skill is remarked in a bas-relief from Tello, which represents a bearded personage, in full face, with a costume in which M. Heuzey has recognized the fleecy stuff called Kaunaakes by the Greeks. Observe [p. 32] the delicacy with which the Chaldæn artists treated the costume and the beard. It may almost be said that Mesopotamian art has no further progress to make, and that it already shows its full proportions at the fabulously remote epoch represented by the antiquities of Tello.

There is less modelling in the figures which adorn the upper part of the Caillous Michaux; the relief upon it is dry and flat, and the drawing affects a hieratic stiffness which would suggest an epoch of decadence, or at least a time when Chaldæn art was arrested in its upward march. This monument, dated in the reign or Marduk-nadin-akhi, King of Babylon about B.C. 1120, was perhaps a stone rolled down by the waters of the river, which was made into a sacred object; the cuneiform inscription contains the donation of a landed estate, settled as a dowry. [See the translation which I have given of it in Lenormant and Babelon, Histoire ancienne de l'Orient, vol. v., p. 84.] The curious figures, under the protection of which this contrast is placed, show us, as they do in many cylinders, that at this epoch Chaldæn mythology was turned to profit by the artists, who knew how to unite human to animal forms without falling into monstrosity or deformity, and to give symbolical figures to the stars and to the invisible genii conceived by their wild imagination. The drawing of these strange figures is not unskillful; they inspire terror without degenerating into the caricature and grotesque from which mark the images of the gods among barbarous peoples. Chaldæn art is as learned as the secrets of its mythology are complicated. Examine, for instance, this winged goat [p. 33] lying before an alter; the angular outlines of its horns are rendered with truth, the muscles of its legs, perhaps badly placed anatomically, are analyzed in their smallest details, and the movement of this animal, which is making an effort to rise, is very natural, though lacking in life and suppleness. We shall recognise the same characters of dryness and rudeness in the black basalt stela of the same king Marduk-nadin-akhi. Here as in the Caillou Michaux, the relief is flat, nothing supple, graceful, or amiable; the Chaldæn genius cannot smile. Of those ample garments of the Oriental, those draperies with which the Greek artist will be able to produce so powerful an effect, the Chaldæn artist is satisfied with scratching in outline, so to speak, the folds and fringes; he makes heavy embroidered copes of them, like those of Catholic priests. But, in compensation, he looks at these embroideries through a magnifying glass, and excels in analyzing [ p. 34] and reproducing the richness of the tissue, the innumerable and complicated forms of the design. We can henceforth foresee that the sculptor, losing sight of synthesis so as to place his ideal exclusively in the infinitely little, will never rid himself of the narrow formula in which he so early imprisoned his talent. All his figures in statuary or in the bas-reliefs, so highly finished in detail, show as a whole a hieratic and conventional stiffness, which will unhappily descend as a heritage to the Assyrian artist. [p. 35]

Chaldæn Seal-Engraving
[See especially J. Menant, La Glyptique orientale, t.i., and L. de Clercq, Catalogue de sa collection, fasc. 1-3]

Though we do not yet possess more than a limited number of pieces of sculpture and statues, those imposing witnesses of Chaldæn art in the time of Gudea or Hammurabi, we can at least supply this want by the numerous and varied productions of the seal-engraver's art. The Chaldæns invented the carving of precious stones, and no people ever made a more constant use of those cylinders, cones and seals of every form, on which are seen, engraved in lines fine and deep, the same images which monumental sculpture drew upon the walls of temples and palaces. These stones carved in intaglio, whether hæmatite, porphyry, chalcedony, marbles or onyx of every variety, were worn round the neck, on the finger, on the wrist, or fastened to the garment; they were at the same time prophylactic amulets against sickness or witchcraft, and seals with which impressions were made at the end of public or private documents.

The most ancient of the Chaldæn cylinders reveals to our eyes the very origin of seal-engraving, the first [p. 45] attempts to carve the round, ovid, or cylindrical gems of the necklaces of the stone age. The burin and the puncheon, handled for the first time, do not yet trace out more than zigzags, lozenges, straight and semi-circular lines crossing one another. Soon attempts are made to trace buildings, figures of animals, antelopes feeding [fig. 31], or fish. The joints and swells of the quadrupeds' bodies are represented by round holes, the limbs by simple strokes.

Soon, with greater mastery over his instruments, the artist--for we may now give him this name--will seek to reproduce on the cylinders the human figure, and then that of the divine beings or the heroes begotten of popular fancy, whose image is to increase the talismanic virtue of the stone. There are monsters standing on their hind-legs, struggling with one another, and giants killing lions or human-faced quadrupeds. M. Menant has remarked that the figures of animals are always represented in profile, while the human figures, with long beards, are in full face even when the body is in profile. There are double-faced genii, quadrupeds with a single head and two bodies. One of the most remarkable cylinders of this primitive epoch is, without contradiction, that of the rich De Clercq collection, the design of which we give here [fig. 32]. Men and various animals are here seen: a goat with wavy horns browsing on the leaf of a tree; a rhinoceros, antelopes, [p. 45] bulls, fish, an eagle, and some trees; two demons subduing fantastic animals, scorpions, and palm-trees. We think of the biblical scene of Adam and Eve in the earthly paradise surrounded by all the living beings in creation .

Fresh progress is marked by the appearance of inscriptions at the sides of the figured scenes. Every possessor of a cylinder makes a point of having his name or that of a favourite deity engraved upon it. Accordingly the names of several patesis, who governed Chaldæn towns three or four thousand years before our era, have been found upon cylinders. The cylinder on which M. Oppert read the name of Asrinilu, patesi of Umalnaru [fig. 33], represents an episode in the Chaldæn epic. The hero Izdubar, with curly beard and hair, seizes with each hand by a hind-leg two lions hanging head downwards. The scene is completed by trees, an antelope, a small human figure, a lion-headed scorpion, a human-headed bull. What is here especially striking is the archaism of the cuneiform signs, formed of strokes, which cross one another, but have not yet the form of wedges, which they are to assume later, and also the modeling and suppleness of most of the figures; the instrument is no longer felt through the work. [p. 47]

Chaldæn seal-engraving reaches it apogee with another cylinder of the De Clerq collection, which has the advantage of being dated, at least relatively; it bears the name of Sargani or Sargon the First, king of Agade, about 3800 years before our era. M. Manant mentions it as marking an important stage in the history of art. The picture, which is very simple, is composed of two symmetrical scenes: Izdubar, with one knee on the ground, on the bank of a river, holds with both hands the sacred ampulla, from which a double jet of water escapes, and at which a bull with long striated horns comes to drink. [Heuzey, Un palais chaldéen, p. 91] Here the artist possesses all the secrets of his art: never, at any epoch, will he be able to reproduce with greater delicacy and truth the powerful muscles of the bull and the giant. And as it must certainly be admitted that monumental sculpture advances as rapidly as seal-engraving, I do not know which should astonish us most--the degree of perfection to which the Chadæns had carried the plastic arts, or the prodigiously distant epoch to which such monuments transport us. [p. 47]

A cylinder in the museum at New York [fig. 35], which from the characters of the writing seems almost contemporary with that of Sargon the First, is executed with a still greater perfection. The play and graceful suppleness of the muscles of the bull and the lion are rendered with the precision which the direct study of nature brings, and with the ease which betrays an artist who can overcome technical difficulties.

If all Chaldæn cylinders could be classed chronologically and by schools, epochs of perfection or of decadence would no doubt be observed, and also greater activity in some artistic centres than in others, the choice of subjects being modified from town to town and from age to age. In the present state of our knowledge we can only hazard conjectures with regard to this. M. Menant looks upon the cylinders which represent the goddess Istar holding her child upon her knees and receiving the homage of the faithful, as issuing from the workshops of Uruk [Erech]; it is the prototype of the divine mother whose worship is to spread even into Greece. At Ur cylinders of very different types, but of a dry execution, which is rather a mark of decadence than of archaism, were manufactured: there are scenes of worship or initiation into mysteries, and sacrifices, among which that of the kid [p. 49] is the most frequent. On certain monuments M. Menant recognizes a representation of human sacrifices: the most marked scene of this kind shows us a sacrificer, who, raising his right hand, brandishes a dagger over a kneeling child, whom he seems to prepare to slay, in the presence of a pontiff and of the statue of the god. One of the commonest figures on Chaldæn cylinders is that of the goddess Istar, sometimes decked with rich ornaments, sometimes entirely naked, in full face, with her hands clasping her breasts: this last type, profusely reproduced by the modelers in clay, was perpetuated all over the East up to the time of the Greek and Roman supremacies. [p. 49]



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