ANCIENT MESOPOTAMIAN ART CLASS GALLERY
Ancient Mesopotamian Art is a broad group that spans thousands of years, beginning with the development of Sumerian civilization around 3200 BCE, all the way to the art of the Persian Empire during the 5th century BCE.
During that time, many empires rose and fell in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (Ancient Mesopotamia). The Sumerians, Akkaddians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians were civilizations all dominated this geography at different periods of antiquity, and each used art to express and legitimize the values of their empires.
This assignment asks you to select and identify a work of art from Ancient Mesopotamia. Please label the work of art in the traditional art historical format and describe it:
1. Artist (if the artist is known. If the artist is unknown, say “anonymous aritst”)
5. Current Location (either in a museum, or a geographical place)
6. Please list which Mesopotamian Civilization (Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, etc.) produced the work of art.
7. Provide a short description (in your own words) of the visual elements of the artwork.
1. Anonymous Artist
2. Dying Lioness
3. 650 BCE
5. The British Museum (originally located in the Palace of Ashurbanipal, Nineveh, Iraq)
6. Neo-Assyrian Civilization (circa 670-630 BCE)
The Dying Lioness is a highly naturalistic bas-relief sculpture that was found during the excavations on the Palace of Ashurbanipal, in Nineveh, Iraq. This sculpture depicts a lioness who has been shot through with arrows during a royal hunt, and who is dying with great pain and pathos. Lions were often kept captive on the palace grounds, and hunted by the king in managed game enclosures that ensured the king’s victory. This was meant to prove the king’s great bravery, despite the fact it was in no way a fair fight. Here the artist has depicted the muscles and anatomies of the lioness with great care and detail, providing a highly naturalistic rendition of the animals form. This naturalism allows us to feel the great strain and pain the lioness experiences as she struggles to take another step, perhaps her last. As the lioness opens her mouth to let out a cry of anguish, the viewer is left to question the need for humans (in this case a powerful man) to burnish their power and dominance by the hunting of animals merely for sport (as opposed to actual sustenance), especially when done so on game preserves that set up an unfair fight. Ultimately my heart is broken when I view this sculpture, and the artist has been successful soliciting emotion through the aesthetic portrayal of the hunt. The Dying Lioness proves that not all ancient Mesopotamian sculpture was “schematic”, “decorative”, and “abstract”, and that indeed there are high degrees of naturalism and emotion in the bas-relief sculptures from the Palace of Ashurbanipal.