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Press release

Art of Second Millennium B.C. Explored in Landmark Exhibition at Metropolitan Museum

Exhibition dates: November 18, 2008 – March 15, 2009
Exhibition location: Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, second floor
Press preview: Monday, November 17, 10:00 a.m. - noon

Beginning around four thousand years ago in the lands of western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean, one of the first international ages in human history emerged. Intense exchange fostered a burst of creativity in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Anatolia, the Levant, and the Aegean in the second millennium B.C.—the time of the Middle and Late Bronze Ages. The quest for raw materials such as metals, semiprecious stones, and other exotic luxury goods led to contacts with the Iranian plateau and Central Asia. Within this lively sphere of interaction, societies that otherwise differed strongly in culture and language were linked by the exchange of objects and ideas. In response, new international styles and imagery arose, reflected in the art, trade and diplomacy that connected the Mesopotamian heartland with the regions "Beyond Babylon."

Opening November 18 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the landmark exhibition Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C. will focus on the extraordinary art created as a result of sophisticated networks of interaction that connected kings, diplomats, and merchants in the Near East during the second millennium B.C. Approximately 350 objects of the highest artistry from royal palaces, temples, and tombs—as well as from a unique shipwreck found off the southern coast of Turkey near Uluburun—will provide the visitor with an overview of artistic exchange and international connections throughout the period.

The exhibition is made possible by Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman and The Hagop Kevorkian Fund.

Corporate sponsors are the DEIK Turkish-American Business Council, Doðan Holding, Doðuþ Holding, Koç Holding, and Sabancý Holding.

Additional support is provided by the Oceanic Heritage Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

"As Beyond Babylon shows, the origins of our interconnected world can be traced back at least four millennia. Extensive communication and trade in antiquity among many ancient cultures led to the development of new art forms of astonishing creativity and technical achievement," commented Philippe de Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Exhibition Overview
Beyond Babylon
will begin with the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2000–1600 B.C.), a time when great rulers such as Hammurabi of Babylon consolidated their power and an expanding social elite sought precious materials and objects fashioned in styles that reflected contacts with foreign lands. Great works such as those that decorated the palace of Zimri-Lim at Mari—whose contemporaries recorded its renown far and wide—reflected the long Mesopotamian artistic tradition as well as expanding cultural contacts. Powerful kingdoms in Syria were linked through commerce and diplomacy with Anatolia, the Mediterranean, and Egypt. International exchange also flowed through the port of Byblos on the Levantine coast, where temples housed remarkable votive objects and tombs contained treasures notable for their Egyptianizing style. The Middle Bronze Age also witnessed heightened relations between the Aegean and other regions of the eastern Mediterranean, as evidenced by objects from Minoan Crete found in the Levant and Egypt. Foreign luxury objects also reached Egypt, such as the rich collection of silver vessels and lapis lazuli beads and seals deposited in the Montu Temple at Tôd. Traveling in donkey caravans laden with tin and textiles, Assyrian merchants established trading centers in central Anatolia and assumed control of the internal trade in local copper—essential for making bronze. Found in the remains of these trading settlements were cuneiform tablets and luxury and household goods, including a great number of ivories, demonstrating widespread contacts during this era.

Next, the exhibition explores the movement of both people and ideas. Trade, booty, and diplomatic gift exchange provided the means for the circulation of precious goods. The emphasis in this section is on the complexity of these interactions, addressing the individuals who traveled—traders, diplomats, soldiers, craftsmen, and other specialists—and the ideas, techniques, and traditions that intermingled. A shared repertoire of royal and ritual imagery appears in a variety of media including jewelry, ceremonial weapons, decorative wall paintings, and small-scale luxury goods. Jewelry, small and portable, combined stylistic and iconographic elements from varied cultures. On a much larger scale, the groundbreaking discoveries of Minoan-style fresco paintings at sites in the Nile Delta, Syria-Levant, and western Anatolia demonstrate an unexpected receptivity to the artistic approaches of the Minoan world. Visual depictions of the divine realm revolved around the creation of supernatural creatures formed by combinations of humans and beasts, or of animals alone, which embraced their collective powers.

The next portion of the exhibition focuses on the large territorial states that came to dominate the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1600–1200 B.C). At this time, rulers in Hatti, Babylonia, Mitanni, Assyria, Egypt, Cyprus, and the Aegean were interlinked by a complex network of cultural, political, and economic relations. Much of what we know about international relations during the Late Bronze Age comes from the site of Amarna in Egypt, where an important archive of royal correspondence from the 14th century B.C. was found. These so-called Amarna Letters bring to life the diplomatic relationships between the Egyptian court and its counterparts throughout the Near East and eastern Mediterranean. Gifts, tributes, trade goods, and royal brides circulated among royal courts, all part of diplomatic exchanges among competing kingdoms.

The far-flung connections of the age and their artistic impact are most dramatically visible in the goods recovered from a shipwreck found near Uluburun off the southern coast of Turkey, which form the core of the second half of the exhibition. The remains of the wreck are a veritable time capsule of late second millennium B.C. trade relations. The cargo included uncarved hippopotamus ivory along with copper and glass ingots, golden jewelry elements, and seals—one a rare golden scarab of Nefertiti. In total, the ship carried products from twelve different cultures: Canaanite, Mycenaean, Cypriot, Egyptian, Nubian, Baltic, northern Balkan, Old Babylonian, Kassite, Assyrian, Central Asian, and possible south Italian or Sicilian. These objects from such diverse areas provide a visual record of the intense interaction among the great powers in the Near East and eastern Mediterranean during that period.

The exhibition concludes with the display of brilliantly crafted objects from the Late Bronze Age that represent the widespread intercultural interactions of the time. These works combine designs and motifs from the Near East, Egypt, and the Aegean and include hard-stone cylinder seals and luxury metalwork, as well as finely carved ivory objects in the form of furniture plaques, small vessels for precious materials, and gaming boxes. The iconography of such works—chariot hunts, fierce feline attacks, and the heroic or divine domination over wild animals—was perhaps a metaphor for virile royal supremacy, an allusion to the ability of the Late Bronze Age ruling class to amass and display great wealth in the form of luxury objects made from expensive materials and incorporating foreign designs. In their style and imagery, these objects display the artistic impact of the complex exchanges that took place across the region during the 14th and 13th centuries B.C. The exchange of luxury objects played a key role in this true "international age" and greatly influenced the artistic legacy that would continue into the following millennium.

This exhibition follows the historical path laid out in the Metropolitan's acclaimed 2003 exhibition Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus.

Catalogue and Related Programs
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. Published by the Metropolitan Museum and distributed by Yale University Press, the catalogue is suitable for nonspecialists as well as scholars, and will be available in the Museum's book shops ($75 hardcover, $50 paperback).

The catalogue is made possible by The Hagop Kevorkian Fund.

Additional support is provided by Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm H. Wiener.

A variety of educational programs have been organized to complement the exhibition. These include a Sunday at the Met on February 22, gallery talks, family programs in English and Spanish, and documentary film screenings for the general public; and online and on-site workshops for teachers. A two-day, international symposium titled "The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Symposium—Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C." has been scheduled for December 18 and 19. The program is free with Museum admission.

An audio tour, part of the Metropolitan's Audio Guide Program, will be available. Narrated by Martin Sheen, the tour contains commentary from exhibition curator Joan Aruz and Dr. Morgens Larsen of the Carsten Niebuhr Institute for Near Eastern Studies in Copenhagen. The fee for rentals is $7, $6 for members, $5 for children under 12.

The Audio Guide program is sponsored by Bloomberg.

The exhibition will be featured on the website of the Metropolitan Museum (

The exhibition is organized by Joan Aruz, Curator in Charge. The catalogue is edited by Joan Aruz with Kim Benzel, Associate Curator, and Jean M. Evans, Assistant Curator, all of the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. Exhibition design is by Michael Batista, Senior Exhibition Designer; graphics are by Barbara Weiss, Senior Graphic Designer; and lighting is by Clint Ross Coller and Richard Lichte, Senior Lighting Designers, all of the Museum's Design Department.

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November 17, 2008

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