The Museum's collection of ancient Near Eastern art includes more than seven thousand works ranging in date from the eighth millennium B.C. through the centuries just beyond the time of the Arab conquests of the seventh century A.D. Objects come from a vast region centered in Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and extending north to the Caucasus and the Eurasian steppes and south to the Arabian peninsula. To the west the region includes Anatolia, Syria, and the Levant, bordered by the Mediterranean; to the east, it extends through Iran and western Central Asia, with connections as far as the Indus River Valley.
Posted: Monday, July 20, 2015
As a recent college graduate and current summer intern in the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Islamic Art, the past weeks have flown by, filled with new and exciting experiences, projects, and opportunities. Among these, I have been fortunate enough to observe some of the curation and the full installation of the exhibition Pattern, Color, Light: Architectural Ornament in the Near East (500–1000), now on view through October 25 in The Hagop Kevorkian Fund Special Exhibitions Gallery (gallery 458). This exhibition highlights architectural ornament from Near Eastern monuments, which exist today in fragmented form from numerous walls, ceilings, and floors. These fragments and their stylistic motifs crossed rival empires and illuminate common aesthetic trends of the period from 500 to 1000 A.D. The Department of Islamic Art started working on this exhibition about nine months ago, but by witnessing the final step of the process—the installation—I have a new appreciation and understanding of what it takes to coordinate a production such as this.
Posted: Tuesday, December 30, 2014
The visitor to the Assyria to Iberia exhibition takes many journeys: one across the centuries that bridge the collapse of Bronze Age palatial societies and the rise of the decentralized world of the Iron Age; one that emerges from the Assyrian heartland—the palaces of Nimrud and Nineveh—with the campaigns of the Assyrian army that brought much of western Asia under its yoke, spreading artistic styles in the wake of war and initiating a flow of treasures into the capital; and, finally, the extraordinary journey of Phoenician sailors, extending across the Mediterranean, through the Greek islands, Etruria, Sardinia, Carthage, and Iberia, initiating an era of unprecedented cultural encounters.
Posted: Monday, December 22, 2014
Much of what we know about the interconnectivity of the Mediterranean world in the first millennium B.C. relies on archaeological discoveries of the past two centuries. Indeed, behind all of the objects on display in Assyria to Iberia lie modern stories of discovery and recovery. The city of Babylon in southern Iraq, once reduced almost to a figment of modern imagination, was revealed by excavations beginning in the nineteenth century. The Assyrian empire, once unknown outside the Bible, was brought to light by excavations in northern Iraq beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century. And the cities of the Phoenician homeland in modern Lebanon were explored in the mid-nineteenth century and then excavated beginning in the 1920s. Archaeological discovery has also played an important role in our understanding of the origins of the alphabet, which was invented in the early second millennium B.C. and spread across the Mediterranean world in the first millennium B.C.
Posted: Monday, December 15, 2014
During the early centuries of the first millennium B.C., sophisticated elites throughout the Mediterranean shared a number of social and religious rituals. Banqueting and feasting were among the most common, along with hunting and warfare. Banquets took place on the occasion of religious festivals, or celebrations of victory, or during some of the sumptuous funerals held for heroes and kings. Banquet ceremonies accompanied by music and dancing are described in literary sources such as the Bible, Homeric epics, and mythological poems from the ancient port city Ugarit (in modern-day Syria), as well as being depicted on works of art (fig. 1). Equipment used for these banquets include bronze cauldrons and andirons to cook meat, metal bowls to drink wine, and ewers to pour the drink, examples of which have been found in archaeological sites all around the Mediterranean. A large selection of these luxurious implements are presented in the exhibition Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age.
Posted: Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Board games were popular entertainments in the ancient Near East. So what games did the Assyrians and the Phoenicians like to play? Part of the answer is in the very first room of the exhibition Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age, on an ivory box from Enkomi. This unique object has a grid with twenty playing squares incised on its upper surface. Although no accessories were found with this box, we can deduce from other archaeological assemblages and pictorial representations what kind of pieces and dice were required.
Posted: Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Prior to the nineteenth-century excavations of the major sites of Mesopotamia—cities such as Nineveh, Nimrud, and Babylon—the Bible was the West's primary reference point for information concerning the region. The echoes of the biblical Babylon can still be heard today, especially through one particular pop-culture reference: the science-fiction trilogy The Matrix. The three films depict a future in which human beings live in a simulated reality resembling modern-day New York, unaware that they are enslaved by sentient machines. Several individuals "wake up" and begin mounting a resistance, eventually led by the foretold savior, Neo.
Posted: Monday, November 24, 2014
Hezekiah became king of Judah in ca. 727 B.C. We learn from the Bible that he purified and repaired the Temple, purged its idols, reformed the priesthood, and witnessed the land prosper. But events in far-off Assyria were to have a fateful effect upon his kingdom. When Sargon II, the king of Assyria, died in battle in 705 B.C., states, including Judah, that were subject to Assyrian hegemony saw the opportunity for revolt (2 Kings 18:7). In 703 B.C. Sennacherib, Sargon's son and successor, began a series of major campaigns to quash opposition to Assyrian rule.
Posted: Monday, November 10, 2014
In countless ways, Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age represents the world of the Phoenicians and the world made possible by Phoenician expansion. Sailing westward from their homeland on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the Phoenicians traded with indigenous peoples and established colonies as far west as the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Morocco, past the Straits of Gibraltar. The spread of these maritime people parallels—and can be often understood as the impetus behind—the movement of art objects and the exchange of materials and motifs across the Mediterranean in the first half of the first millennium b.c.
Posted: Thursday, November 6, 2014
The ancient Phoenician city-states (principally Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, and Arwad) lay along the coast and islands of modern-day Lebanon. In Greece and Rome the Phoenicians were famed as "traders in purple," referring to their monopoly on the precious purple dye derived from the shells of murex snails found along its coast. In the Bible they were famed as sea-faring merchants; their dyes used to color priestly vestments (Ex. 28:4–8), adornments, curtains, yarns, and fabrics used in the Temple of Jerusalem (Ex. 26:31; 36:35; 2 Chr. 2:6; 3:14; cf. Jer. 10:9). Archaeologically, we know that their trading networks extended from the Levantine coast to the Iberian Peninsula, linking ports in the Mediterranean into a vast mercantile network.
Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2014
When people visit an exhibition, generally they view the objects, read the labels and information panels, maybe comment on the design of the show, but rarely, I think, wonder about what it actually takes for the objects to come together for the short span of the exhibition. Working on any installation has its own complications, for sure, but a show as beautiful and complex as Assyria to Iberia can be a roller-coaster ride of preparation. Five years, in fact, from concept to installation, while objects are selected, contracts negotiated and signed, catalogues written, and designs finalized. Then comes the day of reckoning . . . the first day of installation, when the couriers from the lending institutions begin arriving with their objects. For Assyria to Iberia, we borrowed objects from forty-one institutions worldwide, whose couriers all seemed to want to come at the same time!