Elamite Empire The Art of Elamites (3)

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  The Art of Elamites (1)

  The Art of Elamites (2)

The Art of Elamites (3)

Art Statue of Napir Asou - Queen of Elam -1500s BC
 Art Statue of Napir Asou - Queen of Elam -1500s BC

A later Neo-Elamite version of the scene is given in Figure 25. The smaller size of the cylinder and the proportions of the figures are comparable to those of Assyrian cylinders of the ninth century BCE.

This dating is also suggested by the pointed headgear of the seated figure found in a Neo-Elamite relief from Susa and in a rock relief at Naqsh-i Rustem, which will be discussed later.

Among the cylinders with religious themes we have chosen one which shows kneeling gods surrounded by streams of water that seem to issue from their shoulders and from their arms or their hands.

From the fearful and destructive world of demons which can be successfully fought only with the help of the very same demons, if these are properly manipulated, comes the winged lion-headed figure of another cylinder seal. With his bird claws the demon stands on two kneeling ibexes and with each hand raises a gazelle by the hind legs. A related theme is shown in Figure 28, but there are several reasons for suggesting a later, possibly early Neo-Elamite origin for this seal. Such a date would be important for the classification of some of the Luristan bronzes which the demon resembles in abbreviation of form and in the curved slender neck. The figures are attenuated and lack the solid verticality of the preceding seal. Moreover, the wedge-shaped fillers are not found in any other seal from Tchoga Zanbil, but they are reminiscent of the single wedges of cuneiform writing occasionally scattered in the field of Assyrian cylinders of the early first millennium BCE. Lastly, the cylinder is made of bitumen and was not found in the chapels with the other cylinders, which are mostly of faience or glass.

Faience continued as a favoured material for seals in Elam , and a cylinder from Susa which again shows the pursuit of a horned animal by a lion belongs even more certainly to the early first millennium BCE. Here, too, the vertical composition has given way to oblique inclination of the animal bodies, and plants of a type common in Assyrian cylinders of the ninth and eighth centuries BCE rise from the ground-line. Of special interest is the cross, which has branches between the arms. This motif occurs in somewhat related manner on Luristan bronzes and may still be found inSasanian textile patterns.

The next cylinder shows two griffins hovering over a creature which looks like a snake with a bull's head but which may merely present one of those curious abbreviations of animal bodies that occur in Elamite and even in Proto-Elamite art from the earliest to the latest periods. The fact that the griffins have again filled out and show more rounded forms suggests that they are to be placed in the first millennium, in the late ninth or eighth--perhaps even in the early seventh--century BCE.

 Chogha Zanbil ziggurat site khozestan province
 Chogha Zanbil ziggurat site

Two cylinders which may serve to date other works, one of faience, the other of bitumen, show horned animals flanking a tree. The simplified example in which the branches of the tree end in globules was found in one of the chapels at Tchoga Zanbil; the more elaborate version was found at Susa. It shows a tree with a crown consisting of five pointed oval leaves which remind one of the outline of date -palm blossoms. This type of tree design is typical of the late and post-Kasite period of Babylonia, between the thirteenth and eleventh centuries BCE, and even survived into later times. Curiously enough, there are not many examples of such a tree design at Susa, and none has so far been found at Tchoga Zanbil. However, one does find the design on bronzes from Luristan. Perhaps the frequency of the motifs should be investigated for indications of stylistic links, but this is still a task for the future.

On the basis of the chronological division into Old, Middle and Neo-Elamite periods suggested for the cylinder seals, we may now discuss some other Elamite works of art.

No architectural remains from the first half of the second millennium BCE were observed and described at Susa, and no traces of buildings have been preserved. It is therefore impossible to form an opinion of Elamite architecture at Susa during this period.

In the minor arts, however, a definite style manifests itself, a style characterized by the use of animal bodies and animal heads on vessels and other objects. Our plate shows the foot of an object carved in bitumen with the foreparts of an ibex whose head and neck are worked in the round. Nose and beard of the animal are broken off; nevertheless, the animal sculpture is quite expressive, which is in part due to accentuation of the eyes with white shell inlays. Hair is indicated by rows of sharply engraved and short, often slightly curved lines. The style is reminiscent of the Old Elamite cylinder seals which are also made of bitumen and which show similar rows of incised lines to suggest surface patterns.

A statue of Elamit art

The same workshop which produced the object just discussed may have also made the ram-headed bowl found in a coffin between the hands of the deceased. The sides of the bowl represent in side view the extended body of the ram whose neck and head are carved in the round at one end of the bowl. The position in which this vessel was found suggests that such vessels decorated with animal forms lent themselves well to ritual purposes.

The finest example of a bowl of this type was found in the northern Mesopotamian town of Ishchali, in the Diyala valley. Three recumbent ibexes, their heads and necks turned at right angles to the rest of the body and partly worked in the round, were originally carved along the circumference of the bowl, but only one of the animals is preserved. The body is simplified to almost geometric forms, and the hair is stylized in rows of hatchings running in opposite directions like a herring-bone pattern. Although minor differences can be observed between the bowl from Ishchali and the bowl and fragmentary foot of an object from Susa here reproduced, the existence of a large number of such vessels in the finds excavated at Susa, as against the unique example from Ishchali, and the material of these vessels, which is typical of works of art made at Susa, offer sufficient indications on which to postulate the origin of the group in Elam. The appearance of the single piece in Ishchali can be explained by the fact that one of the trade-routes went from Susa to Mesopotamia over Kurdistan, the route nowadays crossing through Kermanshah and into Iraq over passes that lead into the Diyala valley.

If our Elamite bowls are correctly dated in the time of the dynasties of Isin and Larsa in Babylonia, that is, in the twentieth and nineteenth centuries BCE, when a very naturalistic style prevailed in Babylonian art, the abstraction noted in the decoration of these bowls must correspond to a specifically Elamite taste at that period. A distinctively Elamite feature may also be the way in which the head of  the animal decorating the bowl is turned at right angles to the body in relief and carved partly or entirely in the round. This device for enlivening the decoration of a bowl was used in Mesopotamia only in the time of the early urban development shortly before and after 3000 BCE. Perhaps its use at Susa in the Old Elamite period--and later--shows that there this early device was retained with the same tenaciousness which characterizes the retention of earlier features in the artistic production of Iran through the centuries.

Two metal objects dated by the excavator of Susa, De Mecquenem, in a period corresponding to our Old Elamite period, present other features which are not Babylonian and may therefore be Elamite or generally Iranian. A small golden falcon with spread wings has its claws pulled up close to the body as if the bird were seen in flight from below. The representation of the falcon with short thick neck and short beak is a characteristic of later Iranian art, as is the position of the legs. For example, a cauldron attachment from Hasanlu, made about one thousand years later, shows a bird of the same type, similarly positioned. The wings and tail of the bird from Susa seem to have been made in two pieces, of which the lower was a flat plate while the upper one was made in open-work. Together the two pieces formed cells for an inlay of a blue composition. The technique in which cells or cloisons of gold or some other metal are made to hold inlays of some material like blue lapis lazuli, red carnelian or white shell was known quite early in Western Asia, as shown by finds from the Royal cemetery of Ur. An even earlier origin was postulated for small pieces of jewelry, decorated in the same technique, found in a child's grave at Susa, but the date of that jewelry seems somewhat uncertain. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt about the fact that the technique of decoration used for the falcon from Susa was known in Western Asia before the Old Elamite period. The blue composition used for the inlays of the falcon, however, is not attested for the early periods and may indicate that the object should not be dated before the second half of the second millennium BCE.

Elamit Empire Silver cup the sack of  Susa in 647 BC

Elamit Empire Silver cup the sack of Susa

in 647 BC

The second object supposedly of Old Elamite date is a socketed head of a bird or reptile made of silver, perhaps the top of a standard. Within the opened mouth of the creature a pattern of scales can be seen, which makes it more likely that this is the head of a reptile, perhaps a tortoise. The 'tail' shown at the back of the head may imitate in metal the coloured cords, rolled up at the ends, used on standard-tops made of impermanent materials.

No comparable work from the early second millennium BCE is known from Western Asia. The plain geometric forms, given almost demonic life by the large eye peering out from under the thick brow, are comparable rather to later Iranian renderings of animals. It is possible that the head is incorrectly dated and that it was made only after the middle of the second millennium BCE, when Mitannians and Hurrians ruled in northern Mesopotamia and Kassites in the south and the prevalent taste favoured a geometric style there and also in Elam--as shown by the large number of Mittanian or Hurrian cylinders found in Iran and by the existence of at least one fine cylinder seal in Mitannian style with an Elamite inscription. It is also possible, however, that the standard-top really belongs to a time before 1500 BCE and that it prefigures the geometric style of a later age. This would mean, however, that the geometric style had its inception with standards and similar pieces and that it originated in Persia.

The Middle Elamite period is the only period of Elamite rule which has yielded  coherent architectural remains--the sanctuary of Tchoga Zanbil a few miles from Susa. Here Ghirshman excavated a ziggurat and surrounding chapels and temples as well as a palace and various interesting installations. The ziggurat, a temple tower, rises like a massive mountain from the flat and empty plain. Once fields and gardens probably surrounded the sanctuary and supplied the priests and other employees with grain and vegetables. The fact that the soil can be made exceedingly fertile by artificial irrigation is proved by an American and Dutch project for growing sugar-cane in fields located only a few miles from Tchoga Zanbil. In Tchoga Zanbil and Susa the temperature rises to 140 degrees in the summer. But in the desert the heat is dry and bearable in the shade, and nights are even cool. The great question whether or not the ancient inhabitants of Tchoga Zanbil and Susa sought out the cool and refreshing air of the mountain valleys of Luristan during the summer months cannot be answered today because we have too little evidence. The tendency of the present-day inhabitants of the towns of Khuzistan is to seek protection from the mid-day heat in subterranean rooms and to emerge only in the evening. Only the nomads wander with their herds of sheep and goats into the mountains in summer and return in winter to the plain around Susa and Tchoga Zanbil.

The sanctuary of Tchoga Zanbil was separated from the surrounding plain by an outer wall which measured 1200 x 800 metres. An inner wall enclosing the ziggurat and its courts measured 400 x 400 metres. It was pierced by seven gates of varying importance, all leading to the courts of the ziggurat. It is this inner wall which appears in the photograph in Plate 11; above it rise the three storeys of the ziggurat which remain of the original five-storeyed building. The single storeys look like square terraces built one above the other; in reality each storey rises directly from the ground. According to the excavator, R. Ghirshman, the two outer lowest storeys were first built around a central open court. Subsequently the higher storeys were concentrically encased in this court, with the highest storey rising in the middle.

Elamit Empire art

In the second storey from the base several rooms were built behind the southeastern façade. Ghirshman interprets the complex as the lower temple in which the god Inshushinak, to whom the entire Ziggurat was dedicated, was worshipped during the day. At night the god was thought to return to heaven, perhaps striding with gigantic steps up the ziggurat to the top, where a small temple is assumed to have stood. From this point the god would have ascended to heaven, and here he would have landed again in the morning. All this has been deduced from Mesopotamian parallels, however, and may or may not apply to Elamite beliefs.

The few human beings, priests and dignitaries who were admitted to the upper storeys would have had to climb narrow stairs with very high steps, partly covered by brick vaults and partly open to provide light for the stairs. The visual impression of the ziggurat was mainly determined by the horizontal lines of the terraces and by the regular alternation of salients and niches which formed the principal decorative elements here, as in the mud-brick decoration for which no earlier prototype is known is a triple-arched niche found to have decorated a round platform which had four such niches. Two other platforms were found at Tchoga Zanbil, but they were too badly damaged to show any details. The curvature of these architectural forms contrasts strikingly with the prevalent rectangular forms employed in Babylonian architecture.

The principal gate which gave access to the courts surrounding the ziggurat was situated on the south-eastern side of the complex. It was called the 'Royal Gate' by the excavator both because of its large size and because of its decoration of glazed bricks and 'nails' with pommels holding flat tiles in place. The pommels bore the name of the builder of the ziggurat, Untashgal. They were covered with blue glaze like the tiles, which also had a restrained decoration of quarter-rosettes in the angles. Other tiles were decorated with disks of white and black glass in various sizes. Some of the bricks were blue, others green; some had circles with a white or blue centre, or white lozenge shapes on a lapis-lazuli blue background. The strong colour of these glazed bricks and tiles must have given a very festive air to the 'Royal Gate' as seen from the ziggurat.




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