Later, in the Near East, (the area between the Tigris and the
Euphrates Rivers), the Sumerian, Akkadian, and Babylonian kingdoms
flourished. Materials used for sculpture during this time included
basalt, diorite (a type of dark, coarse-grained stone), sandstone,
and alabaster. Copper, gold, silver, shells, and a variety of precious
stones were used for high quality sculpture and inlays. Clay was
used for pottery and terra cotta sculpture. Stone was generally
rare and had to be imported from other locations.
Sculptures from the Sumerian and Akkadian period generally had
large, staring eyes, and long beards on the men. Votive stone sculptures
of this type from 2700 BC were discovered at Tell Asmar. Many masterpieces
have also been found at the Royal Cemetery at Ur (2650 BC). Among
them are a wooden harp with gold and mosaic inlay with a black-bearded
golden bull's head.
Sculpture in Babylonian Times
The history of the Babylonian period is considered to begin with
the reign of Hammurabi, in 1750 BC. Hammurabi was famous for
his code of law. A bearded head, made of diorite, is believed
to represent Hammurabi. The head has the wide open eyes, typical
of the time period.
Also well-known is the lamassu, a human-headed winged lion from
883-859 BC. A unique feature of this piece is that it is carved
with five legs, so that it can have four legs visible if viewed
from the side. The piece was excavated at Nimrud (in northern Mesopotamia),
and was donated to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art by John
D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1932.
Sculpture in Ancient Egypt
One of the earliest examples of Egyptian sculpture is the Palette
of King Narmer, from 3100 BC. The palette, which was used for
mixing eye make-up, was carved in relief, and portrayed the victory
of Upper Egypt over Lower Egypt.
The Sphinxes are another form of Egyptian sculpture. The Sphinxes
were statues of deities with the body of a lion and the head of
an animal or a man, often made to look like the Pharaoh. The most
famous is the Great Sphinx of Giza, located near the pyramids.
It is about 60 feet high and 240 feet long, and was built in 2500
Another example of Egyptian sculpture are the statues of the Pharaoh
Akhenaton and his Queen, Nefertiti (1350 BC). The statues are carved
from limestone and are painted. There is also a very famous statue
of Nefertiti from the same time period.
These are only a few of the many sculptures produced in ancient
Egypt. Many sculptures can now be seen at the Egyptian Museum in
Aegean civilization covers the time period of 3000-1200 BC, during
the Bronze Age, in the area of the Aegean Sea. The Aegean civilization
can be broken down into three main divisions, the Cycladic, the
Minoan and the Mycenaean.
The Cycladic culture developed on the Cycladic Islands, a group
of islands in the Aegean Sea, southeast of Athens. Cycladic culture
developed pottery, often decorated with rectangular, circular,
or spiral designs. They also produced silver jewelry. Characteristic
of their sculpture are marble sculptures of the human figure ranging
from a few inches in size to life-size. The figures are usually
nude females with their arms crossed over their abdomen. Other
sculptures included seated or standing musicians. Examples of sculptures
of musicians include a seated lyre player from 2000 BC. Statues
of a lute player and a harpist were found together in a single
grave on Keros, dating from 2700 - 2750 BC.
The Minoan culture developed mainly on Crete, especially at Knossos
and Phaistos. The civilization was named after King Minos and reached
its peak in the second millennium BC.
Minoan sculpture consists mainly of a few statuettes
and carved semi-precious stone seals. One of the most well-known
is that of a snake goddess, of a goddess holding a snake in each
hand, from Knossos, 1600 BC. Bulls were also depicted in both paintings
and sculptures of Minoan times. A rhyton (drinking horn) in the
shape of a bull was found in Knossos from 1500-1450 BC. In addition,
there are many double-bladed axes, called "labrys", probably
related to sacrifice. Some of the axes are taller than an adult.
The Mycenaen culture flourished in the late Bronze Age, on the
mainland of Greece. According to legend, it was the Greeks of Mycenae
under King Agamemnon that fought the Trojan War.
The Mycenaeans adorned their architecture with
relief carvings. A relief is a design or scene that is carved
into a flat area,
so it is like a three dimensional picture. A famous example of
this is the Lion Gate in the outer wall of the Palace of Mycenae
(14th & 15th centuries BC). Above the lintel (top of the
doorway), two lions are carved to fit into a triangular shape.
The Mycenaeans also produced funeral masks. A famous example is
a gold mask found in the royal tombs of Mycenae from ca. 1500 BC.
Also found in a tomb were gold cups from Vaphio, with bulls portrayed
Sculpture of Ancient Rome
Ancient Roman sculpture was inspired by the sculpture of ancient
Greece. The Romans admired Greek art and tended to copy the Greek
Ancient Roman sculpture can be divided into different types:
1. Relief - shallow three dimensional carvings on flat surfaces,
used for architectural works such as columns, arches and Temples.
An example of this type of sculpture would be the Ara Pacis (Altar
of Peace)from 13 - 9 B.C. The Ara Pacis was a momument to the Rax
Romana (The Roman Peace), 200 years of peace and prosperity ushered
in by Emperor Augustus.
Another example of relief sculpture would be Trajan's
column, dating from 106 - 113 A.D. adorned with scenes of Trajan's
in a continuous spiral around the column.
Funeral reliefs - Many of the more well-to-do Romans had elaborate
coffins called sarcophagi (singular - sarcophagus), adorned
with elaborate carvings. Popular subjects includes scenes of
battle scenes or marriage.
3. Free standing sculpture - such as statues. An
example would be the Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius (Marcus
on a horse), dating from 161 - 180 A.D. Common locations for
statues were in the temples, the public baths or the city Forum
(the social and commercial center of the town).
4. Portrait sculpture - often busts of famous Romans. Subjects
for these sculptures would include the gods, generals and emperors.
The portrait statues were usually very detailed and realistic,
however, one well known example was the bust of Emperor Constantine,
which seemed to be idealized and meant to convey strength and power.