In contrast to other ancient cultures, there was a much smaller emphasis on art in Mesopotamia. Because Mesopotamia was one of the world’s first civilizations, artistic styles hadn’t been very well developed, and there are few relics remaining from the era for us to learn from. However, research still shows that art did have a cultural presence in Mesopotamia, no matter how small it may have been.
For starters, nearly all Mesopotamian art was created to honor the gods. Because Mesopotamian rulers were believed to have a direct link to the gods, artwork depicting the kings of Mesopotamia frequently shows them in an almost holy light.
Sculptures are the most common type of artwork found in Mesopotamian ruins. The oldest life-sized sculpture of a human in the world comes from Mesopotamia: the Urfa Man, dated at approximately 9000 BC.
It’s clear that pottery became more popular over the next 1000 years, as vases and urns of alabaster have been found that come from 8000-8900 BC. However, the most dominant and well-developed form of art in Mesopotamia was the creation of cylinder seals. This art style developed between 8000-550 BC.
These small cylindrical sculptures were used as forms of personal identification for letter and documents, similar to the modern practice of using wax seals. The earliest cylindrical seals had religious decoration, with images of priests and kings giving offerings to the gods, as well as depictions of agriculture in Mesopotamia. The cylindrical seals were often exquisitely detailed, and were an important expression of Mesopotamian culture.
Paintings were not common in Mesopotamia. This is because the materials used to make paint were not readily available in West Asia, and they, therefore, had nothing to paint with. Because of this, sculpture and metalwork remained the most popular forms of artistic expression in Mesopotamia until the fall of the country in the late BC era.
Art in Mesopotamia usually depicted scenes from the real world, and rarely ventured into anything more imaginative. The most common things to be depicted in Mesopotamian art were religious figures, war, and agriculture.
Animals were a common image in Mesopotamia, and artists took great care to make their animal sculptures and etchings look as realistic as possible. This is because farming was the most common profession in Mesopotamia, and was therefore of great cultural importance to each Mesopotamian civilization.
As well as agriculture, war was another constant of Mesopotamia. Because the political climate of Mesopotamia and its surrounding regions was so unstable, the country’s empires were nearly always at war with each other/the kingdoms of neighboring countries.
Art depicting military victories was common in Mesopotamia, particularly in the form of decorative urns and other pieces of pottery. This is similar to the Roman practice of celebrating their military prowess through their artwork.
Finally, images depicting the gods of Mesopotamia were seen in every Mesopotamian civilization. This form of art is also connected to the Mesopotamian style of architecture. To honor their gods, the Mesopotamians built grand structures.
One of the most common forms of “artistic architecture” seen in Mesopotamia was the ziggurat. Ziggurats were step-based structures similar to pyramids, but with a flat-top instead of a pointed one. Ziggurats were built high so that they’d reach the heavens. Some ziggurats were as much as 300 feet tall.
The inside of the ziggurat would be decorated with images of the gods, as well as reliefs depicting Mesopotamians at worship. In a sense, ziggurats are the grandest form of Mesopotamia art, and the most well-preserved; some ziggurats, such as the Ziggurat of Ur, were very well-kept and renovated over the centuries, and remain open for tourists to visit.
– No. Because Mesopotamia was one of the world’s first civilizations, there was no clearly defined art style for a few millennia.
– To honor the gods.
– Sculptures and pottery.
– The materials to make paints were not common in West Asia at the time.
– The country’s ziggurats.