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Babylonian Art: after the Sumerians

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After Sumerian art and civilization another important civilization develops in Mesopotamia between Tigris and Euphrates, that is Babylonian! Babylonian art incorporates the ancient aesthetic canons of Sumerian one even if with some innovation that mostly in the last period,differentiates it from Sumerian art. Even in Babylonian art there are distinct periods that would be three: Old Babylonian Period(2004 b.C.-1595 b.C.) Kassites Period (1595 b.C.-1150 b.C.)and Second Dinasty of Isin Period(1150 b.C.-1020 b.C.),Neo-Babylonian Period(625 b.C.-539 b.C.)

In the Old Babylonian Period,in Mesopotamia,there has been several fights among different people who wanted to divide what was left of Sumerian civilization,which had been absorbed by Elamites and Amorrhite. The largest city-state as Isin, Larsa,Mari and Babylon, contended for domination of Mesopotamia with bitter battle. Monarch Ishib-Erra ascends the throne in Isin city starting liberation struggle against the invaders that will be driven out from southern Mesopotamia freeing up even Ur city from Elamites so as to extend his domination to the Persian Gulf. Following these events Larsa city went to war against rulers of Isin by subduing their kingdom and incorporating it in their own territories. Mesopotamia will be unified just with the rise of monarch Hammurabi who belonged to first dinasty.Old Babylonian Period is characterized by a expansion and restoration  of places of religious worship where various deities cover,as for Sumerian, a central role both in architecture and statuary. Unfurtonately have not been discoved many documents or findinds concerning statues of such period,but from those few finds may be surmised that statues  followed a plastic volume rather flat as for Neo-Sumerian Period which will evolve in a volumetry most accurate and detailed. Among most important and famous findings of this period there is, without doubts, Hammurabi Code which is a stele of black diorite high 2,25 meters that contains one of  the most ancient collection of written laws and nowadays is preserved in Louvre Museum in Paris. In the glyptic arts there is a revising the theme of hero against beasts which are repleaced almost completely by goats which in turn are dominated by a prototype of hero naked and bearded. In the seals the iconography was innovated stylistically since divine figures are represented upright ad no longer seated,increasing the gap size compared to worshipper who prostrates himself to divinity with various offers. Divinities most represented are Ishtar and Shamash.

hammurabicode
Hammurabi Code

Kassites coming from the Zagros mountains, founded the Kassite period and the second dinasty of Isin ,once Hittite conquered and abandoned Babylon. The Kassites rulers,in more than four hundred years of domanation,ordered the construction of palaces and place of worship on the style of previous period,without neglecting the restoration and recovery of buildings and sanctuaries pre-exsisting in important cities as Ur,Ukur,Isin Nippur and Babylon.Among the most important artworks of Kassite Period we find kudduru which are stele of black diorite egg-shaped in which were engraved some texts concerned donations made by monarch toward officers or princes. Usually at the top of kudurru are depicted symbols and divinities. Seals of Kassite Period, for the greater part, is inspired  by the ones of Old Babylon Period even though there are some stylistic innovations as the elongation of figures that become tall and slender.

Neo-Babylonian Period start after dominations of Assyrian that between IX and XII century  took over entire Mesopotamia. Assyrian ruler Sennacherib rezed Babylon in 689 b.C which remaind under his control until to the collapse of Assyrian empire in 614 b.C. New Babylion ruler Nabucodonosor refounded the city of Babylon starting with the work of reconstruction and restore of places of culture and worship marking the start a new period of prosperity and wealth.     

In this new and last period of Babylonian civilization and art new rulers are fosused on restoration and recovery of buildings for worship present in the city of Babylon and in all southern Mesopotamia. Among palaces and religious buildings built in such period the Southern palace covers the most importance. It was started by monarch Nabopolassar then rebuilt and carried out by his successor Nabucodonosor II. Important buildings of worship were, without doubt, the Esagila and the Etemenanki. The first was a sanctuary dedicated to main babylonian divinity the god Marduk,whereas the second was the most important ziggurat of Babylon. The Esagila was used until 482.b.C when Xersex deconsecrated it even if after the conquer of Alexander the Great it was restored and reopened again.The Etemenanki was described even in the Bible as Babel tower due to its huge size. Herodotus described it as a enormous ziggurat with a square plan 91 metes in height with seven overlapping terraces. The Ishtar Gate is another important evidence about architecture of this period and it was wanted by Nabucodonosor II as eighth front door of the defensive walls of Babylon and now preserved in Pergamon Museum of Berlin. It is an outstanding work richly decorated by smooth and blue glass blocks in their turn decorated by lions,dragons and towers colored with white and gold yellow.Findings come down to the present day about reliefs are very scarse but from what little we know we can notice more natural and plastic figures that are influenced by style and iconography of Assyrian domination. The most important work of such period is Stele of Mardukaplaiddina II in which were depicted rulers with tiara and royal staff in front of an officer. Usually divinities are represented only symbolically and in a top of stele. The last ruler of Babylon that was Nabodeno,will leave a plastic and soft style influenced by Assyrian to get back to pictures more schematic close to sumerian art; as regards to glyttic we can notice the usual religious and ritual themes as well as a total absence of heros who fight with wild beasts which were depicted in the previous babylonian periods and in sumerian art as well.

As all empires and civilizations even babylonian one with its art, rich of story and charm,came to an end without being forgotten though and contributing,as did sumerian art, to the evolution slow and progressive of all artistic aspects of civilizations which would come after. 

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