A History of Art in Chaldaea & Assyria Part 20

The crenellations we have been describing are those upon the retaining walls of Sargon's palace at Khorsabad. Those of the _Observatory_ are slightly different in that they are three stories high instead of two (Fig.

105). The lowest is three bricks wide, the second three, the topmost two.

They are each three bricks high. Why were these battlements given a height beyond those of the royal palace? That question may be easily answered. The crenellations of the observatory were destined for a much more lofty situation than those of the palace. The base of the former monument rose about 144 feet above the summit of the artificial hill upon which it was placed; the total elevation was about 190 feet, a height at which ordinary battlements, especially when for the most part they had nothing but the face of the higher stories to be relieved against, would be practically invisible.

[Illustration: FIG. 105.--Battlements from the Khorsabad _Observatory_.]

Whether composed of two or three stages this battlement was always inscribed within an isosceles triangle; in fact, when a third story was added, the height and the width at the base increased in the same proportions. M. Place lays great stress upon this triangle. He makes it cut the upper angles of each of the superimposed rectangles, as we have done in our Figs. 104 and 105, and he points out how such a process gives an outline similar to that of a palisade cut into points at its summit, a precaution that is often taken to render the escalade of such an obstacle more difficult, and M. Place is inclined to think that the idea of these crenellations was suggested by those of a wooden palisade, a succession of rectangles being substituted for a triangle in order to meet the special conditions of the new material. To us, however, it hardly appears necessary to go back to the details of wooden construction to account for these forms. We find no sign of M. Place's spiked palisades in the bas-reliefs.

The inclosures of the Mesopotamian fields must have consisted of palm trunks and strong reeds; planks were hardly to be cut from the trees of the country. Moreover, the mason and bricklayer saw the forms of these battlements repeated by their hand every instant. Whenever they began a fresh course the first brick they placed upon the joint between two units of the course below was the first step towards a battlement. The decoration obtained by the use of these battlements was not a survival from a previous form, it was a natural consequence from the fundamental principle of Assyrian construction.

It has been thought that some of the buildings represented on the bas-reliefs have triangular denticulation in place of the battlements figured on the last page;[317] and there are, in fact, instances in the reliefs of walls denticulated like a palisade (see Fig. 38), but these must not, we think, be taken literally. In most cases the chisel has been at the trouble to show the real shapes of the battlements (Fig. 42), but in some instances, as in this, it has been content to suggest them by a series of zig-zags. Here and there we may point out a picture in stone which forms a transition between the two shapes, in Fig. 41 for example. Such an abbreviation explains itself. It is, in fact, nothing more than an imitation of the real appearance of the rectangular battlements when seen from a distance.[318]

The architect was not content with the mere play of light and shade afforded by these battlements. He gave them a slight salience over the facade and a polychromatic decoration. About three feet below the base of the crenellations the face of the wall was brought forward an inch or two, so that the battlements themselves, and some eight or ten courses of bricks below them, overhung the facade by that distance, forming a kind of rudimentary cornice (see Fig. 106). In very elaborate buildings enamelled bricks were inserted between the battlements and this cornice. These were decorated with white rosettes of different sizes upon a blue ground. The explorers of Khorsabad encountered numberless fragments of these bricks and some whole ones in the heaps of rubbish at the foot of the external walls.

Their situation proved that they had come from the top of the walls, and on the whole we may accept the restoration of M. Thomas, which we borrow from the work of M. Place, as sufficiently justified (Fig. 106).[319]

This method of crowning a wall may seem poor when compared to the Greek cornice, or even to that of Egypt, but in view of the materials with which he had to work, it does honour to the architect. The long band of shadow near the summit of the facade, the bands of brilliantly coloured ornament above it, and the rich play of light and shade among the battlements, the whole relieved against the brilliant blue of an Eastern sky, must have had a fine effect. The uniformity from which it suffered was a defect common to Mesopotamian architecture as a whole, and one inseparable from the absence or comparative disuse of stone. But in the details we have been studying we find yet another illustration of the skill with which these people corrected, if we may so phrase it, the vices of matter, and by a frank use of their materials and insistence upon those horizontal and perpendicular lines which they were best fitted to give, evolved from it an architecture that proved them to have possessed a real genius for art.

[Illustration: FIG. 106.--Battlements of Sargon's palace at Khorsabad; compiled from Place.]

The Assyrians seem to have been so pleased with these crenellations that they placed them upon such small things as steles and altars. In one of the Kouyundjik reliefs (Fig. 42) there is a small object--a pavilion or altar, its exact character is not very clearly shown--which is thus crowned.

Another example is to be found in a bas-relief from Khorsabad (Fig. 107).

[Illustration: FIG. 107.--Altar; from Rawlinson.]

We are thus brought to the subject of altars. These are sufficiently varied in form. In the Kouyundjik bas-relief (Fig. 42) we find those shapes at the four angles which were copied by the peoples of the Mediterranean, and led to the expression, "the horns of the altar." In the Khorsabad relief (Fig.

107) the salience of these horns is less marked. On the other hand, the die or dado below them is fluted. Another altar brought from Khorsabad to the Louvre is quite different in shape (Fig. 108). It is triangular on plan.

Above a plinth with a gentle salience rises the altar itself, supported at each angle by the paw of a lion. The table is circular, and decorated round the edge with cuneiform characters.

[Illustration: FIG. 108.--Altar in the Louvre. Height 32 inches.[320]]

A third type is to be found in an altar from Nimroud, now in the British Museum (Fig. 109); it dates from the reign of Rammanu-nirari, who appears to have lived in the first half of the eighth century before our era.[321]

The rolls at each end of this altar are very curious and seem to be the prototype of a form with which the Graeco-Roman sarcophagi have made us familiar.

[Illustration: FIG. 109.--Altar in the British Museum. Height 22 inches, length at base 22 inches.]

The various kinds of steles are also very interesting. The most remarkable of all is one discovered at Khorsabad by M. Place (Fig. 100). The shaft is composed of a series of perpendicular bands alternately flat and concave, exactly similar to the flutes of the Ionic order. The summit is crowned by a plume of palm leaves rising from a double scroll, like two consoles placed horizontally and head to head. The grace and slenderness of this stele are in strong contrast to the usually short and heavy forms affected by the Assyrian architects, especially when they worked in stone. It is difficult to say what its destination may have been. It was discovered lying in the centre of an outer court surrounded by offices and other subordinate buildings; it has neither figure nor inscription.[322] The base was quite rough and shapeless, and must have been sunk into the soil of the court, so that the flutes began at the level of the pavement. M. Place suggests that it may have been a _milliarium_, from which all the roads of the empire were measured. We do not know that there is a single fact to support such an unnecessary guess.

The stele of which we have been speaking is unique, but of another peculiarly Assyrian type there is no lack of examples, namely, of that to which the name _obelisk_ has, with some want of discrimination, been applied. The Assyrian monoliths so styled are much shorter in their proportions than the lofty "needles" of Egypt, while their summits, instead of ending in a sharp pyramidion, are "stepped" and crowned with a narrow plateau. (Fig. 111.) These monoliths were never very imposing in size, the tallest is hardly more than ten feet high.

[Illustration: FIG. 110.--Stele from Khorsabad. Plan and elevation; from Place.]

[Illustration: FIG. 111.--The obelisk of Shalmaneser II. in the British Museum.[323] Height 78 inches. Drawn by Bourgoin.]

Whatever name we choose to give to these objects, there can be no doubt as to their purpose. They are commemorative monuments, upon which both writer and sculptor have been employed to celebrate the glory of the sovereign. A long inscription covers the base of the shaft, while the upper part of each face is divided into five pictures, the narrow bands between them bearing short legends descriptive of the scenes represented. It was, of course, important that such figured panegyrics should be afforded the best possible chance of immortality; and we find that most of these obelisks are composed of the hardest rocks. Of the four examples in the British Museum, three are of basalt and one only of limestone.

[Illustration: FIG. 112.--Rock-cut Stele from Kouyundjik. British Museum.]

Another type of stele in frequent employment was that with an arched top and inclosing an image of the king. It is often represented on the bas-reliefs[324] (Fig. 42), and not a few examples of it are in our museums. When we come to speak of Assyrian sculpture we shall have to reproduce some of them. We find a motive of the same kind, but more ornate and complicated, in the bas-relief from Kouyundjik figured above (Fig.

112). A hunting scene is carved on a wall of rock at the top of a hill. A lion attacks the king's chariot from behind; the king is about to pierce his head with an arrow while the charioteer leans over the horses and seems to moderate the determination with which they fly.[325] The sculpture is surrounded by a frame arched at the top and inclosed by an architrave with battlemented cornice. The whole forms a happily conceived little monument; it is probable that it was originally accompanied by an explanatory inscription.

This analysis of what we have called secondary forms has shown how great was the loss of the Chaldaean architect and of his too docile Assyrian pupil, in being deprived--by circumstances on the one hand and want of inclination on the other--of such a material as stone. Without it they could make use of none of those variations of plan and other contrivances of the same kind by which the skilful architect suggests the internal arrangement of his structures on their facades. For such purposes he had to turn to those constituents of his art to which we shall devote our next section.


[295] _Art in Ancient Egypt_, vol. ii. ch. ii.

[296] GEORGE SMITH, _Assyrian Discoveries_, pp. 146, 308, 429. This lintel has been fixed over the south doorway into the Kouyundjik Gallery of the British Museum. When examined in place, the running ornament in the hollow of the cornice will be easily recognized--in spite of the mutilation of its upper edge--as made up of a modified form of the palmette motive, which had its origin in the fan-shaped head of the date palm. The eight plumes of which the ornament consists are each formed of three large leaves or loops and two small pendant ones, the latter affording a means of connecting each plume with those next to it.--ED.

[297] PLACE, _Ninive_, vol. i. pp. 295-302.

[298] PLACE, _Ninive_, vol. i. pp. 302, 303.

[299] Two much better examples of this same work may be seen in the Assyrian basement-room of the British Museum.--ED.

[300] PLACE, _Ninive_, vol. i. p. 314.

[301] We here quote the opinion of Mr. Ready, the well-known director of the museum workshops. In April, 1882, he had examined this curious monument, which is now placed in the public galleries close to the Balawat gates.

[302] HERODOTUS, ii. 179: Pylai de enestasi perix tou teicheos hekaton, chalkeai pasa kai stathmoi te kai huperthuma hosautos.

[303] An account of the discovery and a short description of the remains, will be found in an article by Mr. Theo. G. PINCHES, published in the _Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology_, and entitled: _The Bronze Gates discovered by Mr. Rassam at Balawat_ (vol. vii. part i. pp.

83-118). The sculptured bronze from these gates is not all, however, in the British Museum. Mr. Rassam's workmen succeeded in appropriating a certain number in the course of the excavations, and thus M. Gustave Schlumberger has become possessed of a few pieces, while others of much greater importance have come into the hands of M. de Clercq. M. F. LENORMANT has published in the _Gazette Archeologique_ (1878) a description of the pieces belonging to M. Schlumberger, with two plates in heliogravure. We have already referred to the great work which is now in course of publication by the _Society of Biblical Archaeology_; it will put an exact reproduction of this interesting monument in the hands of Assyriologists and those interested in the history of art. We shall return to these gates when we come to treat of sculpture.

[304] A number of sockets found by M. de Sarzec in the ruins of Tello are now deposited in the Louvre. M. PLACE found some at Khorsabad (_Ninive_, vol. i. p. 314), and Sir Henry LAYARD on the sites of the towns in Upper Mesopotamia (_Discoveries_, p. 242). The British Museum has a considerable number found in various places.

[305] In the same case as the Balawat gates there is a brick, which has obviously been used for this purpose.

[306] PLACE, _Ninive_, vol. i. p. 314.

[307] In the British Museum there are some smaller bronze objects of the same kind from the palace of Sennacherib. Others were found by M. PLACE in the palace of Sargon (_Ninive_, plate 70, fig. 6), so that they must have been in frequent use.

[308] LAYARD (_Discoveries_, p. 163) gives a sketch of one of these objects. Its internal diameter is about five inches, and its weight 6 lbs.

3-3/4 oz. These rings are now in the British Museum.

[309] BOTTA, _Monument de Ninive_, vol. v. pp. 53-55.

[310] BOTTA, _Monument de Ninive_, plates 149 and 150. See also LAYARD, _Discoveries_, p. 131, and FERGUSSON, _History of Architecture_, vol. i. p.

185 (2nd edition).

[311] LOFTUS, _Travels and Researches_, p. 175.

[312] M. Place offers a similar explanation of the engaged columns that were found in many parts of the palace at Khorsabad (_Ninive_, vol. ii. p.

50). He has brought together in a single plate all the examples of pilasters and half columns that he encountered in that edifice. Similar attempts to imitate the characteristic features of a log house are found in many of the most ancient Egyptian tombs. See _Art in Ancient Egypt_, vol.

ii. p. 62 and fig. 37.

[313] See, for instance, in _Art in Ancient Egypt_, vol. i. figs. 123, 124, 201, and in vol. ii. pp. 55-64, and figs. 35-37 and 139.

[314] _Art in Ancient Egypt_, vol. i. p. 117.

[315] We here give a resume of M. PLACE'S observations on this point. He made a careful study of these crenellations. _Ninive_, vol. ii. pp. 53-57.

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