A History of Art in Chaldaea & Assyria Part 17

[Illustration: FIG. 85.--Winged Sphinx carrying the base of a column; from Layard.]

[Illustration: FIG. 86.--Facade of an Assyrian building; from a bas-relief in the British Museum. Height 10 inches.]

In what M. Place calls the state doorways (_portes ornees_) of Khorsabad, the arches spring from the backs of the great mitred bulls that guard the entrance.[270] But, whether the columns rose from the backs of animals real or fantastic, they always seem to have had a base. Almost the only instance of its absence is in the open gallery in Fig. 76, and there, perhaps, they are hidden by a balustrade. Everywhere else we find a more or less ornamental member interposed between the shaft and the ground. At Khorsabad (Fig. 41) it is a simple torus (Fig. 87), at Kouyundjik (Fig. 42) it is a kind of cushion (Fig. 88), which we find represented in not a few of the bas-reliefs. The curves bear a distant resemblance to the volutes of a capital; above this base appears a ring or astragal, the origin of which may be easily guessed. The original timber column, the newly felled tree that was set up to support the roof of a tent or a house, must have been placed upon a block of stone or wood, to which it was joined, in some degree, by hollowing out the latter and setting the foot of the timber beam in the hollow, and then hiding the junction by those reed bands that, as travellers tell us, were still used for the same purpose in the last years of Babylon.[271] In time a ring of metal would take the place of the reeds, and when stone columns came to be used, a feature which was at first a necessity, or, at least, a useful expedient and a guarantee of duration and solidity, came at last to be simply an ornament.

[Illustration: FIGS. 87, 88.--Bases of columns; from the bas-reliefs.]

We have now studied the Assyrian column as a whole and in detail. Most of its features seem to us to be survivals from the methods and processes of what we have called the architecture of the tent. The stone column had no place in those structures of crude brick of which the real national architecture of Mesopotamia consisted; it was not at home there; the surrounding conditions were unfavourable to its development. And yet, in time, it did, as we have seen, put in a rare appearance, at least in the case of that one of the two sister nations by which a sufficient supply of stone could be obtained, but even then it filled an ornamental and auxiliary rather than a vital function. Its remains are only to be found by patient search, and even in the bas-reliefs its representations are few and far between. By making diligent use of these two channels of information archaeology has succeeded in demonstrating the existence of the Assyrian column and describing its forms, but at the same time it has been compelled to recognize how narrow was its use, especially in the great structures on which Mesopotamian builders lavished all the resources of their art. In those it was employed mainly for the decoration of outbuildings, and it will be well to inquire how it acquitted itself of such a task.

The column seems to have been introduced in those gateways to which the Assyrian architect attached so much importance.[272] Read carefully Sir Henry Layard's description of his discovery of two sphinxes upon one of the facades of the south-western palace at Kouyundjik (Fig. 83); he gives no plan of the passage where he found them, but his narrative[273] suggests the existence of some kind of porch in front of the large opening. It must have been upheld by a pair of columns on the backs of the two sphinxes, and may have consisted of one of those wooden canopies which are so common in the modern architecture of the East.[274]

We are inclined to recognize a pent house of this kind, but of more complicated construction in the Kouyundjik bas-relief figured above (Fig.

83). No door is shown, but that, perhaps, is due to the sculptor's inability to suggest a void, or the two central perpendicular lines may have been joined by a horizontal one on the upper part of the relief, which is lost, and thus a doorway indicated; it would then have a couple of pilasters and a couple of columns on each flank.

In classic architecture we find nothing that can be compared with this curious notion of placing columns and pilasters on the backs of real or imaginary animals, on a lion, a winged bull, or a sphinx. In the modern East, however, it is still done. The throne of the Shah, at Teheran, is supported by columns which, in their turn, stand on the backs of lions.

Singularly enough the same idea found favour with European architects in the middle ages, who often made use of it in the porches of their Christian cathedrals.[275] Hence, the old formula often found in judicial documents, _sedente inter leones_,--sitting between the lions--which, was used of episcopal judgments delivered in the church porch. In Italy, in buildings of the Lombardic style, these lions are to be found in great numbers and in this same situation. At Modena there is one in the south porch of the cathedral that strongly reminded me by its style and handling of the figures now existing in Cappadocia, of the lion at Euiuk, for example; in both instances it is extended on the ground with its fore paws laid upon some beast it has caught.[276] We could hardly name a motive more dear to Oriental art than this. Between the predilections of the modern East and those of Assyria and Chaldaea there are many such analogies. We shall not try to explain them; we shall be content with pointing them out as they present themselves.

Various facts observed by Sir Henry Layard and the late George Smith, show that the column was often employed to form covered alleys stretching from a door to the edge of the platform, doubtless to the landings on which the stepped or inclined approaches to the palace came to an end. Sir Henry Layard[277] found four bases of limestone (Fig. 82) on the north side of Sennacherib's palace. They were in couples, one couple close to the palace wall, the other in a line with it but some eight-and-twenty yards farther from the building. In each pair the distance from centre to centre was 9 feet 3 inches. With such a width the covered way may very well have been roofed with wood, a hypothesis which is supported by the discovery, at the same point, of the remains of crude brick walls. The columns would mark in all likelihood the two extremities of the passage. As for the other conjecture thrown out by the explorer, it seems to us to be much less probable. He asks whether these bases may not have been the pedestals of statues. Many Assyrian statues have been found together with their pedestals, and these are always simple in the extreme and without any kind of ornament. Moreover, the statues themselves were made rather to be set up against a wall than to pass an independent existence in an open courtyard.

Moreover, George Smith saw two of these bases in place at one of the entrances to the palace of Assurbanipal. Unfortunately he gives no drawing and his description is wanting in clearness, but he seems to have noticed the traces left by a cylindrical shaft on the upper surface of one base; his expression, "a flat circle to receive the column," evidently means that the latter was sunk into the substance of the base.[278] Here, no doubt was the end of a gallery, like that in front of Sennacherib's palace.

There must in all probability have been other remains of these columns besides those noticed by the English explorer, but at Khorsabad alone were the excavations superintended by a professional architect, there alone were they watched by the trained eye of a man capable of giving its true meaning and value to every detail of a ruinous building. At Nimroud, at Kouyundjik, at Nebbi-Younas, many interesting traces of ancient arrangements may have been obliterated in the course of the excavations without those who stood by having the least suspicion of their significance.

We might perhaps, if it were worth while, come upon further representations of columns on engraved stones, on ivories, and bronzes,[279] but upon such small objects forms are indicated in a very summary fashion, and, besides, they would be nothing more than curtailed repetitions of motives shown in more detail and upon a larger scale elsewhere. Our readers may fairly judge, from the examples we have placed before them, of the appearance of those columns of wood and metal, which the Chaldaeans used in the light and graceful tabernacles figured for us on the relief from Sippara, and of the more durable stone supports of the Assyrians. Long habit and an excessive respect for tradition, hindered the latter from turning the column to its fullest use. They stopped half way. They employed the feature with such timidity that we can point to nothing that can be called an Assyrian order.

They produced nothing to compare with the rich and varied colonnades that we admired in the hypostyle halls of Egypt. And yet we cannot say that they showed any lack of originality or invention in their choice of decorations for the bases and capitals of their columns. Their favourite motive seems to have been the volute, to which, however, they gave an endless variety.

They used it, no doubt, in many ways that now escape us, and by applying it now to this purpose and now to that, and sometimes with the happiest results, they accumulated an amount of experience as to the value of those graceful curves which was of great value to their successors. Who those successors were and how they carried to perfection a form which had its origin on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, will be shown in the course of our history.


[251] See above, p. 118, note 1.

[252] TAYLOR, _Notes on Abou-Sharein, and Tell-el-Lahm_, (_Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society_, vol. xv. p. 404).--ED.

[253] This inscription is published in full in the _Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia_, vol. v. part ii.

[254] The names of these three deities are furnished by the inscription which runs beneath the canopy of the pavilion (see Fig. 71).

[255] The disk upon the table is enough by itself to betray the identity of the god, but as if to render assurance doubly sure, the artist has taken the trouble to cut on the bed of the relief under the three small figures, an inscription which has been thus translated by MM. OPPERT and MeNANT: "Image of the Sun, the Great Lord, who dwells in the temple of Bit-para, in the city of Sippara."

[256] See our _History of Art in Ancient Egypt_, vol. ii. chap. 1, -- 1.

[257] PLACE, _Ninive_, vol. i. pp. 120-122, and vol. iii. plate 73.

[258] In this connection Sir H. LAYARD makes an observation to which the attention of the artist should be drawn. Whenever pictures of _Belshazzar's Feast_ and the _Last Night of Babylon_ are painted massive Egyptian pillars are introduced: nothing could be more contrary to the facts (_Discoveries_, p. 581).

[259] M. PLACE, indeed, encountered an octagonal column on the mound of Karamles, but the general character of the objects found in that excavation led him to conclude positively that the column in question was a relic from the Parthian or Sassanide epoch (_Ninive_, vol. ii. pp. 169, 170).

[260] _History of Art in Ancient Egypt_, vol. ii. p. 95.

[261] _Ibid._ vol. i. p. 397, fig. 230; and vol. ii. p. 105, fig. 84.

[262] The profiles of the capitals in this gallery led Sir H. LAYARD to speak of "small pillars with capitals in the form of the Ionic volute"

(_Discoveries_, p. 119) (?).

[263] A similar arrangement of volutes may be found on the rough columns engraved upon one of the ivory plaques found at Nimroud (LAYARD, _Monuments_, &c., first series, plate 88, fig. 3).

[264] We reproduce this capital from RAWLINSON'S _Five Great Monarchies_ (vol. i. p. 333); but we should have liked to be able to refer either to the relief in which it occurs, or to the original design which must have been made in the case of those slabs which had to be left at Nineveh. We have succeeded in finding neither the relief nor the drawing, so that we cannot guarantee the fidelity of the image.

[265] See _Art in Ancient Egypt_, vol. ii. p. 120, fig. 95.

[266] LAYARD forgets to give the height of this base: he is content to tell us that its greatest diameter is 2 feet 7 inches, and its smallest 11-1/2 inches. This latter measurement must have been taken at the junction with the shaft (_Discoveries_, p. 590).

[267] George SMITH, _Assyrian Discoveries_, sixth edition, 8vo. 1876, p.


[268] LAYARD, _Nineveh_, vol. i. p. 349, at a little distance the explorer found the bodies of two lions placed back to back, which seemed to have formed a pedestal of the same kind. Their heads were wanting, and the whole group had suffered so much from fire, that it was impossible either to carry it off or to make a satisfactory drawing from it (_ibid._ p. 351).

[269] This suggestion seems inconsistent with the state of the ruin at the spot where the discovery was made. Sir Henry Layard describes these sphinxes as buried in charcoal, and so calcined by the fire that they fell into minute fragments soon after exposure to the air. Anything carried on their backs must have fallen at the time of the conflagration, and, if a stone column, it would have been found under the charcoal.--ED.

[270] PLACE, _Ninive_, vol. iii. plate 11.

[271] STRABO, xvi. 1, 5.

[272] Thomas has placed one of these porches in his restoration of Sargon's palace at Khorsabad. It is supported by two columns, and serves to mark one of the entrances to the harem. (PLACE, _Ninive_, vol. iii. plate 37 _bis_.)

[273] LAYARD, _Nineveh_, vol. i. pp. 349, 350.

[274] Numerous examples are figured in COSTE and FLANDIN'S _Perse Moderne_, plates 3, 7, 9, 26, 27, 54, &c. They cast a wide shadow in front of the doorways, and sometimes run along the whole length of the facade. Some little support to M. Perrot's theory is afforded by a circumstance on which Layard dwells strongly in the passage referred to above, namely, that the sphinxes were found buried over their heads in charcoal, which may very well have been the remains of such a porch; its quantity seems too great for those of a ceiling.--ED.

[275] This coincidence struck Professor Rawlinson, who compares one of these Assyrian columns to a column in the porch of the Cathedral of Trent.

He reproduces them both in his _Five Great Monarchies_, vol. i. p. 313.

[276] See PERROT and GUILLAUME, _Exploration archeologique de la Galatie_, vol. ii. pl. 57.

[277] _Discoveries_, p. 590.

[278] GEORGE SMITH, _Assyrian Discoveries_, p. 431.

[279] One curious example of this is figured in the work of M. CHIPIEZ, _Histoire critique de l'Origine et de la Formation des Ordres grecs_, p.

20. See also LAYARD, _Discoveries_, p. 444, where a bas-relief from the palace of Sennacherib is figured, upon which appears a coffer supported by a foot in the shape of a column, which ends in a regular volute.

-- 5.--_The Arch._

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