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A History of Art in Chaldaea & Assyria, v. 1
by Georges Perrot
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Most of the sills belong to this class. And in Assyria where doorways were several yards deep and two or three wide, these sills were in reality the pavements of passages or even chambers.[298]

The materials for these pavements were always different from those of the floors on each side of them. In the entrances to the brick-paved courts large stones were used; in the passages between rooms floored with beaten earth bricks were introduced. The stone thresholds were mostly alabaster like the sculptured slabs upon the chamber walls. As a rule they were of a single piece, the great extent of surface, sometimes as much as ten or eleven square yards, notwithstanding. In the entries flanked by the winged bulls the sills were carved with inscriptions, which were comparatively rare elsewhere. Sometimes we find a rich and elaborate ornamentation in place of the wedges; it is made up of geometrical forms and conventional foliage and flowers; the figures of men and animals are never introduced. Such an arrangement was in better taste than the mosaic thresholds of the Romans where men were shown in pictures destined to be trodden under foot. The Assyrian carver doubtless took his designs from the carpets in the adjoining chambers.

]

A good idea of these designs may be formed from the slab figured below. The centre is occupied by a number of interlacing circles, betraying no little skill on the part of the ornamentist. The "knop and flower" border of alternately closed and shut lotus flowers is separated from the centre by a band of rosettes. The whole is distinguished by thought and a severe taste. The indented corners, where the pivots of the doors were placed, and the slot for the lower bolt of the door near the centre, should be noticed. These details prove that in this instance the door was a double one. In other cases the absence of the slot and the presence of only one pivot hole show that single doors were also used.[300] The doors always opened inwards, being folded back either against the sides of the entry itself or against the walls of the chamber.

Many of these sills or thresholds show no sign of a pivot at either corner, whence we may conclude that many of the openings were left without doors, and could only have been closed by those suspended carpets or mats of which such ready use is made in hot countries.

In very magnificent buildings metal thresholds sometimes replaced those of stone or brick. In the British Museum there is a huge bronze sill that was found in a ruined temple at Borsippa, by Mr. Rassam. Its extreme length is sixty inches, its width twenty, and its thickness about three and a half inches. It bears an inscription of Nebuchadnezzar the arrangement of which proves that the sill when complete had double its present length, or about ten feet. Its upper surface is decorated with large rosettes within square borders. We need hardly say that it is a solid casting, and that its weight is, therefore, by no means trifling. The workmen who put in place and those who cast it must both have thoroughly understood what they were about. Even now, we are told, the latter operation would be attended by some difficulty.[301]

The founders who produced this casting could have no difficulty over the other parts of the door-case, and we have no reason to doubt the statement of Herodotus, who thus ends his account of how the walls of Babylon were built: "The walls had a hundred gates, all of bronze; their jambs and lintels were of the same material."[302]

These lintels and jambs must have been, like the Borsippa threshold, of massive bronze, or they would soon have been crushed by the weight they had to support. On the other hand, had doors themselves been entirely of that metal it would have been very difficult if not impossible to swing them upon their hinges, especially in the case of city gates like those just referred to. It is probable, then, that they were of timber, covered and concealed by plates of bronze. Herodotus indeed narrates what he saw, like a truthful and intelligent witness, but he was not an archaeologist, and it did not occur to him when he entered the famous city which formed the goal of his travels, to feel the shining metal and find out how much of it was solid and how much a mere armour for a softer substance behind.

From fragments found at Khorsabad, M. Place had already divined that the Assyrians covered the planks of their doors with bronze plates, but all doubts on the point have been removed by a recent discovery, which has proved once for all that art profited in the end by what at first was nothing more than a protection against weather and other causes of deterioration. In 1878 Mr. Hormuzd Rassam, the fellow traveller of Sir Henry Layard, found in the course of his excavations in Assyria for the British Museum, some metallic bands covered with repousse reliefs and bearing the name of Shalmaneser III. (895-825). The site of this discovery was Balawat, an artificial mound about fifteen miles to the east of Mossoul.[303] As soon as these bands had been examined in London by competent archaeologists, they were recognized as having belonged to the leaves of a wooden door, which must have been nearly twenty-seven feet high and about three inches thick. This latter dimension has been deduced from the length of the nails used to keep the bands in place. At one end these bands were bent with the hammer round the pivot to which each half of the door was attached. These pivots, judging from the bronze feet into which they were "stepped," were about twelve inches in diameter.

It is easy to see from their shape how these feet were fixed and how they did their work (Fig. 97). The point of the cone was let into a hollow socket prepared for it in a block cut from the hardest stone that could be found. Such a material would resist friction better and take a higher polish than brick, so that it was at once more durable and less holding. Sockets of flint, basalt, trachyte, and other volcanic rocks have been found in great numbers both in Assyria and Chaldaea.[304] Instances of the use of brick in this situation are not wanting,[305] however, and now and then the greenish marks left by the prolonged contact of metal have been discovered in the hollows of these sockets.[306]

British Museum.]

More than one method was in use for fixing the pivots of the doors and enabling them to turn easily. Sir Henry Layard brought from Nimroud four heavy bronze rings which must have been used to supplement these hollow sockets.[308] In one way or another bronze occupied a very important place in the door architecture of the Assyrians. In those cases where it neither supplied the door-case nor ornamented its leaves, it was at least used to fix the latter and to enable them to turn.

In Assyrian facades doors had much greater importance than in those architectural styles in which walls are broken up by numerous openings. Their great size, their rich and varied ornamentation, the important figures in high relief with which the walls about them were adorned, the solemn tints of bronze lighted up here and there by the glory of gold, the lively colours of the enamelled bricks that formed their archivolts, and finally the contrast between the bare and gleaming walls on either side and their depths of shadow—all these combined to give accent to the doorways and to afford that relief to the monotony of the walls of which they stood in so great a need. For Assyrian mouldings are even poorer than those of Egypt. The softness of crude brick, the brittle hardness of burnt brick, are neither of them well disposed towards those delicate curves by which a skilful architect contrives to break the sameness of a facade, and to give the play of light and shadow which make up the beauty of a Greek or Florentine cornice.

The only mouldings encountered in Assyria have been found on a few buildings or parts of buildings in which stone was employed. We may quote as an instance the retaining wall of the small, isolated structure excavated by Botta towards the western angle of the Khorsabad mound, and by him believed to be a temple.[309] The wall in question is built of a hardish grey limestone, the blocks being laid alternately as stretchers and headers. The wall is complete with plinth, die and cornice (Figs. 98 and 99). The latter is a true cornice, composed of a small torus or bead, a scotia, and a fillet. The elements are the same as those of the Egyptian cornice, except in the profile of the hollow member, which is here a scotia and in Egypt a cavetto, to speak the language of modern architects. The Egyptian moulding is at once bolder and more simple, while the vertical grooves cut upon its surface give it a rich and furnished aspect that its Assyrian rival is without.[310]

We have another example of Assyrian mouldings on the winged sphinx found by Layard at Nimroud (Fig. 85)—the sphinx, that is, that bore a column on its back. In section this moulding may be compared to a large scotia divided into two cavettos by a torus. Its effect is not happy. The Assyrians had too little experience in stone-cutting to enable them to choose the most satisfactory proportions and profiles for mouldings.

We may also point to the entablatures upon the small pavilions reproduced in our Figs. 41 and 42. They are greatly wanting in elegance; in one especially—that shown in Fig. 42—the superstructure is very heavy in proportion to the little temple itself and its columns.



The only moulding, if we may call it so, borrowed by Assyria from Chaldaea, and employed commonly in both countries, is a brick one. Loftus was the first to point it out. He discovered it in the ruined building, doubtless an ancient temple, in the neighbourhood of Warka, and called by the natives Wuswas. This is his description:—"Upon the lower portion of the building are groups of seven half-columns repeated seven times—the rudest perhaps which were ever reared, but built of moulded semicircular bricks, and securely bonded to the wall. The entire absence of cornice, capital, base or diminution of shafts, so characteristic of other columnar architecture, and the peculiar and original disposition of each group in rows like palm logs, suggest the type from which they sprang."[311]

With his usual penetration, Loftus divines and explains the origin of these forms. The idea must have been suggested, he thinks, by the palm trunks that were used set closely together in timber constructions, or at regular intervals in mud walls. In either case half of their thickness would be visible externally, and would naturally provoke imitation from architects in search of ornament for the bald faces of their clay structures.[312]



As to the effect thus obtained, the rough sketch given by Loftus hardly enables us to decide (see Fig. 100). From Assyria, however, come better materials for a judgment. We there often find these perpendicular ribs, generally in groups of seven, in buildings that have been carefully studied and illustrated upon a sufficient scale. We give an example from one of the harem gates at Khorsabad (Fig. 101), by which we may see at once that an ornamental motive of no little value was afforded by these huge vertical reeds with their play of alternate light and shadow, and the happy contrast they set up between themselves and the brilliant hues of the painted walls and enamelled bricks. The whole had a certain elegant richness that can hardly be appreciated without the restoration, in every line and hue, of the original composition.

Both at Warka and in the Khorsabad harem, these vertical ribs are accompanied by another ornament which may, perhaps, have been in even more frequent use. We mean those long perpendicular grooves, rectangular in section, with which Assyrian and Chaldaean walls were seamed. In the harem wall these grooves flank the group of vertical reeds right and left, dividing each of the angle piers into two quasi-pilasters. At Warka they appear in the higher part of the facade, above the groups of semi-columns. They serve to mark out a series of panels, of which only the lower parts have been preserved. The missing parts of the decoration may easily be supplied by a little study of the Assyrian remains. The four sides of the building at Khorsabad, called by M. Place the Observatory, are decorated uniformly in this fashion. The general effect may be gathered from our restoration of one angle. The architect was not content with decorating his wall with these grooves alone; he divided it into alternate compartments, the one salient, the next set back, and upon these compartments he ploughed the long lines of his decoration. These changes of surface helped greatly to produce the varied play of light and shadow upon which the architect depended for relief to the bare masses of his walls. The most ordinary workmen could be trusted to carry out a decoration that consisted merely in repeating, at certain measured intervals, as simple a form as can be imagined, and, in the language of art as in that of rhetoric, there is no figure more effective in its proper place than repetition.



The necessity for something to break the monotony of the brick architecture was generally and permanently felt, and in those Parthian and Sassanide periods in which, as we have said, the traditions of the old Chaldaean school were continued, we find the panel replaced by wall arcades in which the arches are divided from each other by tall pilasters. In general principle and intention the two methods of decoration are identical.

The Egyptian architect had recourse to the same motive, first, in the tombs of the Ancient Empire for the decoration of the chamber walls in the mastabas; secondly, for the relief of great brick surfaces. The resemblance to the Mesopotamian work is sometimes very great.[313]

We have explained this form by one of the transpositions so frequent in the history of architecture, namely, a conveyance of motives from carpentry to brickwork and masonry.[314] In the former the openings left in the skeleton are gradually filled in, and these additions, by the very nature of their materials, most frequently take the form of panels. The grooves that define the panels in brick or stone buildings represent the intervals left by the carpenter between his planks and beams. They could also be obtained very easily upon the smooth face of beams brought into close contact, either by means of the gouge or some other instrument capable of cutting into the wood. We may safely assert that in Chaldaea and Assyria, as in Egypt, it was with carpentry that the motive in question originated.

On the other hand, if there be a form that results directly from the system of construction on which it is used, that form is the crenellation with which, apparently, every building in Mesopotamia was crowned.[315]



The Assyrian brickwork in which so many vast undertakings were carried out consists of units all of one dimension, and bonded by the simple alternation of their joints. Supposing a lower course to consist of two entire bricks, the one above it would be one whole brick flanked on either side by a half brick. An Assyrian wall or building consists of the infinite repetition of this single figure. Each whole brick lies upon the joint between two others, and every perpendicular wall, including parapet or battlement, is raised upon this system.



Far from being modified by the crenellations, this bond regulates their form, dimensions, and distribution. The crenellations of the palace walls consist of two rectangular masses, of unequal size, placed one upon the other. The lower is two bricks'-length, or about thirty-two inches, wide, and the thickness of three bricks, or about fourteen inches, high. The upper mass equals the lower in height, while its width is the length of a single brick, or sixteen inches. The total height of the battlement, between twenty-eight and twenty-nine inches, is thus divided into two masses, one of which is twice the size of the other (see Fig. 104). The battlements are all the same, and between each pair is a void which is nothing but the space a battlement upside down would occupy. Fill this space with the necessary bricks, and a section of wall would be restored identical in bond with that below the battlements, with the one exception that the highest block of the battlement, being only one brick wide, is formed by laying three whole bricks one upon the other.[316]

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.



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.



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).



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.

]

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.



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.



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.



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.

NOTES:

[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.

[316] See M. PLACE'S diagrams, Ninive, vol. ii. p. 54.

[317] PLACE, Ninive, vol. ii. p. 53.

[318] M. Perrot dismisses the evidence of those who believe in a palisade origin of the Assyrian battlements in what is, perhaps, rather too summary a fashion. The fact is that the great majority of the crenellated buildings in the reliefs have triangular battlements, while the theory that they are merely a hasty way of representing the stepped crenellations is to some extent discredited by their frequent occurrence side by side with the latter on the same relief. The Balawat gates, for instance, contain some nine or ten examples of the triangular, and four or five of the stepped, shape. In the series of sculptured slabs representing the siege of a city by Assurnazirpal (10 to 15 in the Kouyundjik gallery at the British Museum), there are examples of both forms, and in more than one instance the triangular battlements are decorated with lines and rosettes—similar in principle to those shown above in fig. 106—that can hardly be reconciled with the notion that their form is the result of haste on the part of the artist. In the Assyrian Basement Room in the British Museum there is an interesting bas-relief representing Assyrian soldiers busy with the demolition of a fortified wall, probably of some city just taken. The air is thick with the materials thrown down from its summit, among them a great number of planks or beams, which seem to suggest that timber was freely employed in the upper works of an Assyrian wall. If this was so, the pointed battlements in the reliefs may very well represent those in which timber was used, and the stepped ones their brick imitations. Both forms were used as decorations in places where no real battlements could have existed, as, for instance, on the tent of Sennacherib, in the well-known bas-relief of the siege of Lachish (see fig. 56).—ED.

[319] PLACE, Ninive, vol. ii. p. 85.

[320] There is an altar almost exactly similar to this in the British Museum. It was found in front of the temple of the War God, Nimroud.—ED.

[321] Upon some other monuments brought from the same place by Mr. Hormuzd Rassam, and also exhibited in the Nimroud central saloon, we may read by the side of Rammanu-nirari's name that of his spouse Sammuramat, who seems to have been associated with him in the government, and to have been the recipient of particular honours. The name of this princess has caused some to recognize in her the fabulous Semiramis of the Greek writers. In consequence of facts that have escaped us she may well have furnished the first idea for the romantic legends whose echo has come down to our times.

[322] PLACE, Ninive, vol. i. p. 96; vol. ii. pp. 71-73.

[323] Besides the obelisk of Shalmaneser II., which is in a marvellous state of preservation, the British Museum possesses three other objects of the same kind. Two of these were made for Assurnazirpal; the third, the most ancient of all, dates from the time of Tiglath Pileser I.; unhappily only fragments of it remain.

[324] See also BOTTA, Monument de Ninive, vol. i. plate 64. We here find an instance of one of these arched steles erected before a fortress.

[325] ?—ED.

Sec. 7.—Decoration.

Mesopotamia was no exception to the general rule that decoration is governed by construction. To take only one example, and that from an art we have already studied, the Egyptian temple was entirely of stone, and its decoration formed a part of the very substance of what we may call the flesh and blood of the edifice. The elements of that rich and brilliant decoration are furnished by those mouldings which make up in vigour what they lack in variety, by the slight relief or the hardly perceptible intaglio of the shadowless figures cut by the sculptor in stone, and covered by the painter with the liveliest colours. This sumptuous decoration, covering every external and internal surface, may no more be detached from it than the skin of an animal may be detached from its muscles. The union is even more intimate in this case, the adherence more complete. So long as the Egyptian walls remain standing, the blocks of limestone, sandstone, or granite of which they are composed, can never be entirely freed from the images, that is, from the expression of the thoughts, cut upon them by the men of forty centuries ago.

In Assyria the case was different. There buildings were of brick, each unit being in the vast majority of cases a repetition of its neighbour. In very few instances were the bricks of special shapes, and the buildings in which they were used could only be decorated by attached ornament, similar in principle to the mats and hangings we spread over the floors and walls that we wish to hide. This result they obtained in one of two ways; they either cased their walls in stone, an expensive and laborious process, or they covered them with a decoration of many colours.

As soon as stone came into use, it must have offered an irresistible temptation to the chisel of the sculptor and the ornamentist; and so we nearly always find it decorated with carvings. Sometimes, as in the lintel and thresholds described above (Figs. 95 and 96), the motives are purely ornamental. Elsewhere, in the gates of the Assyrian palaces, and in the plinths of the walls that surround their courts and halls, we find both figures in the round and in low relief. In a future chapter we shall attempt to define the style of these works and to determine their merit. For the present we must be content with pointing out the part played by sculpture in the general system of decoration.

In Chaldaea sculpture must have played a very feeble part in the ensemble of a building, stone was too costly in consequence of the distance it had to be carried. From the ruins of Chaldaea no colossi, like those which flanked the entrances of the Ninevite palaces, none of those long inscriptions upon alabaster slabs which have been of such value for the student of Assyrian history, have been brought. This latter material and all the facilities it offered to the sculptor was apparently entirely neglected by the Chaldaeans. In Lower Mesopotamia the hard volcanic rocks were chiefly used. They were preferred, no doubt, for their durability, but they were little fitted for the execution of figures of any size, and especially was it impossible to think of using them for such historic bas-reliefs as those upon which the Assyrians marshalled hundreds, or rather thousands, of busy figures. Chaldaean doorways may, however, have been sometimes flanked with lions and bulls,[326] we are indeed tempted to assign to such a position one monument which has been described by travellers, namely, the lion both Rich and Layard saw half buried in the huge ruin at Babylon called the Kasr.[327] It is larger than life. It stands upon a plinth, with its paws upon the figure of a struggling man. There is a circular hole in its jaw bigger than a man's fist. The workmanship is rough; so too, perhaps, is that of the basalt lion seen by Loftus at Abou-Sharein. This latter is about fifty-four inches high and its original place may very well have been before one of the doorways of the building.[328]

Of all animal forms, that of the lion was the first to afford materials for decorative composition of any value, and even after all the centuries that have passed, the lion has not lost his vogue in the East. We might, if we chose, multiply examples of this persistence, but we shall be content with quoting one. In the centre of Asia Minor, at the village of Angora, in which I passed three months of the year 1861, I encountered these lions at every turn. A short distance off, in the village of Kalaba, there was a fountain of Turkish construction in which a lion, quite similar in style to those of Assyria, had been inserted.[329] In the court of a mosque there was a lion in the round, a remarkable work by some Graeco-Roman sculptor.[330] There and in other towns of Asia Minor, lions from the Seljukian period are by no means rare, and even now they are made in considerable numbers. After the labours of the day we sometimes passed the evenings in the villas of the rich Greek merchants, which were nearly all on the east of the town. Most of these houses were of recent construction, and were filled with mirrors, fine carpets, and engravings. In front of the house, and in the centre of a large paved and trellised court, there were fountains, sometimes ornamented with considerable taste, in which, on great occasions, a slender jet of water would give coolness to the air. The angles of nearly every one of these fountains were marked with small white marble lions, heavy and awkward in shape, but nevertheless considered at Angora to be the last word of art. They are imported from Constantinople together with the basins of the fountains.

In spite of all this, however, some doubts may be felt as to the destination of the lions found among the Chaldaean ruins. The only monument there discovered which seems to have certainly belonged to an architectural decoration is one found by Sir Henry Layard in his too soon interrupted explorations in the Kasr. It is a fragment of a limestone slab from the casing of a facade (Fig. 113). The upper parts of two male figures support a broken entablature beneath which the name of some divinity is cut.[331]

The chief interest of this fragment lies in the further evidence it affords of a close connection between the arts of Chaldaea and those of Babylon. There is nothing either in the costume or features of these individuals that may not be found in Assyria. The tiara with its plumes and rosettes, the crimped hair and beard, the baton with its large hilt, are all common to both countries, while the latter object is to be found on the rocks of Bavian and as far north as the sculptures of Cappadocia.



A study of those reliefs in which nothing but purely ornamental motives are treated, leads us to exactly the same conclusion. Take for instance the great bronze threshold from Borsippa, of which we have already spoken; the rosettes placed at intervals along its tread are identical with those encountered in such numbers in Assyria.

In the extreme rarity of stone in his part of the world the Chaldaean architect seems to have practically reserved it for isolated statues, for votive bas-reliefs, for objects of an iconic or religious character, but nevertheless, we have sufficient evidence to prove that such decorative sculpture as found a place in the Chaldaean buildings, did not sensibly differ from that to which Assyria has accustomed us.

From all that we have said as to the distribution of stone, it will be understood that we must turn to Assyria to obtain a clear idea of the measures by which buildings of crude brick were rendered more sightly by ornament in the harder material. We can hardly imagine an Assyrian palace without those series of bas-reliefs which now line the walls of our museums much in the same fashion as they covered those of Sargon's and Sennacherib's palaces, and yet it is unlikely that in the beginning the Assyrian palaces had these carved walls. The casing of stone and alabaster must have been originally employed for more utilitarian purposes—to hide the grey and friable material within, to protect it from damage, and to offer a surface to the eye which should at least be inoffensive. The upper parts of the walls would be covered with a coat of stucco, which could be renewed whenever necessary, but for the lower part, for all that was within reach of the crowds that frequented the public halls of the seraglio, who passed through its gates or those of the city itself, some more efficient protection would be required. The constructor was thus led to encase the lower parts of his walls in a cuirass of stone imposed upon their brick cores. The slabs of which he made use for this purpose varied between three and ten feet in height, and between six and fifteen in width. Their average thickness was about eight inches.

The way in which these slabs were fixed is hardly worthy of such clever builders, and, in fact, the Assyrians seem to have never succeeded in mastering the difficulties inherent in the association of two heterogeneous materials. The slabs were of gypsum or limestone, the wall of pise, materials which are not to be easily combined. The Assyrians contented themselves with simply placing the one against the other. No trace of any tie is to be found. A "tooth" has been given to the inner faces of the slabs by seaming them in every direction with the chisel, and, perhaps, some plastic substance may at the last moment have been introduced between them and the soft clay, but no trace of any other contrivance for keeping the two materials together has been found. After the general mass of the building—its clay walls and vaults—were complete, a different class of workmen was brought in to line its chambers and complete their decoration. The crude brick would by that time have become dry, and no longer in a condition to adapt itself to the roughnesses of the alabaster slabs. The liquid clay, like that of an earthenware "body," wets and softens the surface of the brick while it enters into every hollow of the stone and so allies the one with the other. We recommend this conjecture to those who may undertake any future excavation in Assyria. It lies with them to confirm or refute it.

However this may have been, the constructor made use of more than one method of giving greater solidity to his walls as a whole. His slabs were not only let into each other at the angles, in some chambers there were squared angle pieces of a diameter great enough to allow them to sink more deeply into the crude brick behind, and thus to offer steady points of support in each corner. Finally the separate slabs were held together at the top by leaden dovetails like the metal clamps used to attach coping stones to each other.

Such precautions were rendered comparatively useless by the fact that the whole work was faulty at the base. Halls and chambers had no solid foundation or pavement, so that the heavy slabs of their decoration rested upon a shifting soil, quite incapable of carrying them without flinching. In many places they sank some inches into the ground, the soft earth behind pushing them forward, and in their fall the row to which they belonged was inevitably involved. The excavators have again and again found whole lines of bas-reliefs that appeared to have fallen together. Such an accident is a thing for posterity to rejoice over. Prone upon a soft and yielding soil the works of the sculptor are better protected than when standing erect, their upper parts clear, perhaps, of the ruin that covers their feet, and exposed to the weather at least, and, too often, to the brutality of an ignorant population.

Such defects are sufficient to prove that these slabs were never meant to carry any great weight; far from affording a support to the wall behind, they required one to help them in maintaining their own equilibrium. On the other hand they protected it, as we have said above, from too rapid deterioration.

At Khorsabad this stone casing is in very bad condition at many points, in the halls and passages of the outbuildings and in the courtyards adjoining the city gates for instance.[332] There the stones are only smoothed down, and their obvious purpose is merely to protect the crude brick within. The purely architectural origin of this system of casing is thus clearly shown.

But the presence of these slabs set upright against the wall offered a temptation to the ambitious architect that he was not likely to resist. The limestone and alabaster of which they were composed afforded both a kindly surface for the chisel, and a certain guarantee of duration for the forms it struck out. In every Assyrian palace we may see that the king, its builder, had a double object in view, the glorification of the gods, and the transmission to posterity of his own image and the memory of his reign. To these ends the architect called in the sculptor, under whose hands the rudely dressed slabs took the historic forms with which we are familiar.

Of all parts of the palace the doorways were most exposed to injury from the shocks of traffic, and we find their more solid plinths surmounted by higher and thicker slabs than are to be found elsewhere. These slabs are carved with the images of protecting divinities. Huge winged and man-headed bulls (Plate X)[333] or lions (Fig. 114), the speaking symbols of force and thought, met the approaching visitor. Sometimes a lion, reproducing with singular energy the features of the real beast, was substituted for the human-headed variety (Plate VIII).[334]

These guardians of the gate always had the front part of their bodies salient in some degree from the general line of the wall. The head and breast, at least, were outside the arch. Right and left of the passage were very thick slabs, also carved into the form of winged bulls in profile, and accompanied by protecting genii. These latter divinities are sometimes grave and noble in mien, obviously benevolent (Figs. 8 and 29), sometimes hideous in face, and violent in gesture. In the latter case they are meant to frighten the profane or the hostile away from the dwelling they guard (Figs. 6 and 7). All these figures are in much higher relief than the sculptures in the inner chambers.



All this shows that the sculptor thoroughly understood how to make the best of his opportunities when he was once called in to ornament those massive door-frames and slabs which at first were no more than additional supports for the building to which they were applied. He varied the shapes of these blocks according to their destined sites, and increased their size so as to give gigantic proportions to his man-headed bulls and lions. Some of the winged bulls are from sixteen to seventeen feet high.[335] In spite of the labour expended upon the carving and putting in place of these huge figures, they are extremely numerous, hardly less so, indeed, than the Osiride piers of Egypt.[336] In the palace of Sargon at Khorsabad, twenty-six pairs have been counted; in that of Sennacherib at Kouyundjik, there were ten upon a single facade.[337]

In those passages, halls, and courtyards, whose destination justified such a luxury, the sculptor utilized the stone lining of the walls with equal skill, but in a slightly different spirit. The figures on the facade had to be seen from a great distance, and were exposed to the full light of the Mesopotamian sun, so that their colossal proportions and the varied boldness of their relief had an obvious justification. The sculptures in the interior were smaller in scale and were strictly bas-reliefs. With the shortening of the distance from which they could be examined, their scale was made to conform more closely to the real stature of human beings. In some very spacious halls a few of the figures are larger than life, while in the narrowest galleries they become very small, the alabaster slabs being divided into two stories or more (see Fig. 115).[338]

There is another singularity to be noticed apropos of these sculptures. The themes treated outside are very different from those inside the palaces. The figures in the former position are religious and supernatural, those in the interior historical and anecdotic. There is much variety in the details of these narrative sculptures, but their main theme is always the glorification, and, in a sense, the biography of the sovereign.



In the Egyptian temple the figures which form its illumination are spread indifferently over the whole surface of the walls. In a Greek temple, on the other hand, sculpture was confined with rare exceptions to the upper part of the building, to the pediments chiefly, and the frieze. The Assyrian method was neither that of the Egyptians nor that of the Greeks. At Nineveh, the sculptor did not, as in Egypt, sow his figures broadcast over the whole length and breadth of the building, neither did he raise them, as in Greece, above the heads of the crowd; he marshalled them upon the lowest part of a wall, upon its plinth. Their feet touched the soil, their eyes were on a level with those that looked at them; we might say that they formed an endless procession round every hall and chamber. The reasons for such an arrangement are to be sought for, not in any aesthetic tendency of the Assyrian artist, but in the simple fact that only in the stone cuirass, within which the lower parts of the brick walls were shut up, could he find the kindly material for his chisel. Nowhere else in the whole building could the stone, without which his art was powerless, be introduced.

But as the lateral development of Assyrian buildings was great, so too was the field offered to the Assyrian sculptor. It has been calculated that the sculptured slabs found in the palace of Sargon would, if placed in a row, cover a distance of nearly a mile and a half. Their superficies is equal to about an acre and a half. By this it will be seen that sculpture played an important part in the decoration of an Assyrian palace, but as it was confined to the lower part of the walls, some other method had to be invented for ornamenting those surfaces on which the chisel could not be used. In Chaldaea, where there was so little stone, it was practically the whole building that had to be thus contrived for. In both countries the problem was solved in the same fashion—by the extensive use of enamelled brick and painted stucco, and the elaboration of a rich, elegant, and withal original system of polychromy.

Explorers are unanimous in the opinion that neither burnt nor sun-dried brick was ever left without something to cover its nakedness. It was always hidden and protected by a coat of stucco.[339] At Nineveh, according to M. Place, this stucco was formed by an intimate mixture of burnt chalk with plaster, by which a sort of white gum was made that adhered very tightly to the clay wall.[340] Its peculiar consistence did not permit of its being spread with a brush; a trowel or board must have been used. The thickness of this cement was never more than one or two millimetres.[341] Its cohesive force was so great that in spite of its thinness it acted as an efficient protector. It has often been found in excellent condition, both upon flat and curved surfaces, upon the walls of courtyards and chambers, on the under sides of vaults, wherever in fact a stone casing did not supply its place.

It would seem that some buildings had no outward ornament beyond the brilliant whiteness of this stucco, the effect of which may be seen at the present day in the whitewashed houses of the East. The glare of such a wall was happily contrasted with the soft verdure that sometimes grew about it, and the dark blue of the sky against which its summit was relieved. Such a contrast gives importance and accent to the smallest building, as painters who treat the landscapes of the South thoroughly understand.

We have reason to believe, however, that as a rule the white stucco served as a background and support to other colours. No Chaldaean interiors have come down to us, while the exteriors are in such bad preservation that we can hardly form any true judgment of the colours and designs with which they were once adorned. But in the case of Assyria we know pretty well how the decorator understood his business, and it is probable that, like his colleagues, the architect and the sculptor, he was content to perpetuate the traditions of his Chaldaean masters.

In certain cases the decorator makes use of wide unbroken tints. This is the simplest way of using colour. In the palace of Sargon, for instance, wherever the sculptured slabs are absent we find a plinth painted black in distemper. These plinths are from two to nearly four feet high, according to the extent of the courts or chambers in which they occur. The object of such a dado is clear; it was to protect the lower part of the wall, if not against deliberate violence, at least against dirt. A white stucco in such a position would soon have been disfigured by spots and various marks which would be invisible on a black background. Moreover, the contrast between the plinth and the white wall above it must have had a certain decorative effect.[342]

This coloured dado is to be found even in places to which it seems quite unsuited. At Khorsabad, for instance, it runs across the foot of those semicircular pilasters we noticed in one of the harem chambers (Fig. 101). These pilasters stand upon a plinth between three and four feet high, so that any contact with the dirt of the floor need not have been feared. The existence of the dado in such a position is to be accounted for by supposing that the decorator considered it as the regular ornament for the bottom of a wall. It is more difficult to understand why the alcoves believed by MM. Place and Thomas to have been bedrooms were in each case painted with this same band of black.[343]

The most curious example of the employment of unbroken tints to which we can point, is in the case of M. Place's observatory. The stages of that building were each about twenty feet high, and each was painted a colour of its own; the first was white, the second black, the third red, the fourth white. When the excavations were made, these tints were still easily visible. The building seems originally to have had seven stages, and the three upper ones must certainly have been coloured on the same principle as those below them. In his restoration, Thomas makes the fifth vermilion, the sixth a silver grey, while he gilds the seventh and last.[344] In this choice and arrangement of tints there is nothing arbitrary. It is founded on the description given by Herodotus of Ecbatana, the capital of the Medes. "The Medes ... built the city now called Agbatana, the walls of which are of great size and strength, rising in circles one within the other. The plan of the place is, that each of the walls should out-top the one beyond it by the battlements. The nature of the ground, which is a gentle hill, favours this arrangement in some degree, but it was mainly effected by art. The number of the circles is seven, the royal palace and the treasuries standing within the last. The circuit of the outer wall is very nearly the same with that of Athens. Of this wall the battlements are white, of the next black, of the third scarlet, of the fourth blue, of the fifth orange; all these are coloured with paint. The two last have their battlements coated respectively with silver and gold."[345]

Between the series of colours found upon the ruin in question and the list here given by Herodotus there is, so far as they go, an identity which cannot be due to chance. The Medes and Persians invented nothing; their whole art was no more than an eastern offshoot from that of Mesopotamia. It was in Chaldaea that the number seven first received an exceptional and quasi sacred character. Our week of seven days is a result from the early worship of the five great planets and of the sun and moon. There were also the seven colours of the rainbow. From such indications as these the early architects of Assyria must have determined the number of stages to be given to a religious building; they also regulated the order of the colours, each one of which was consecrated by tradition to one of those great heavenly bodies. We can easily understand how the silver white of the penultimate stage was chosen to symbolize the moon, while the glory of the gold upon the upper story recalled that of the noonday sun.

Thus must we figure the tower with seven stages which Nebuchadnezzar boasted of having restored in more than its early magnificence. These arrangements of coloured bands had a double value. Each tint had a symbolic and traditional signification of its own, and the series formed by the seven was, so to speak, a phrase in the national theology, an appeal to the imagination, and a confession of piety. At the same time the chief divisions of the monument were strongly marked, and the eye was attracted to their number and significance, while the building as a whole was more imposing and majestic than if its colour had been a uniform white from base to summit. The colours must have been frequently renewed.

In the interior, where the temperature was not subject to violent changes, where there was neither rain nor scorching sun, the architect made use of painting in distemper to reinforce the decoration in his more luxurious chambers. Unfortunately these frescoes are now represented by nothing but a few fragments. In the course of the excavations numerous instances of their use were encountered, but in almost every case exposure to the air was rapidly destructive of their tints, and even of their substance. They occurred chiefly in the rooms whose walls were lined in their lower parts with sculptured slabs. By dint of infinite painstaking M. Place succeeded in copying a few fragments of these paintings.[346] According to the examples thus preserved for us, human figures were mingled with purely ornamental motives such as plumes, fillets, and rosettes. The colours here used were black, green, red, and yellow, to which may be added a fifth in the white of the plaster ground upon which they were laid. Flesh tints were expressed by leaving this white uncoloured.



Several fragments of these painted decorations have also been preserved by Sir Henry Layard. The simplest of them all is a broad yellow band edged on each side by a line of alternately red and blue chevrons separated from each other by white lines. Down the centre of the yellow band there is a row of blue and white rosettes (Fig. 116). Another example in which the same colours are employed is at once more complex and more elegant (see Fig. 117). Finally, in a third fragment, a slightly simplified version of this latter motive serves as a lower border to a frieze upon which two bulls face each other, their white bodies being divided from the yellow ground by a thick black line. The battlements at the top are dark blue (Fig. 118). An idea of the tints used in this decoration may be obtained from Fig. 2 of our plate xiv.



It was upon the upper parts of walls where they were beyond the reach of accidental injury that these painted decorations were placed. M. Place had reason to think that they were also used on the under-sides of vaults. In rooms in which a richer and more permanent kind of ornament was unnecessary, paint alone was used for decoration. In several chambers cleared by George Smith at Nimroud, that explorer found horizontal bands of colour, alternately red, green, and yellow, and where the stone casing of the lower walls was not sculptured, these stripes were continued over its surface.[347]

The artist to whom the execution of this work was intrusted must have arranged so that his tints were in harmony with those placed by another brush on many details of the sculptured slabs. We shall discuss the question of polychromy in Assyrian sculpture at a future opportunity; at present we are content with observing that the effect of the reliefs was strengthened here and there by the use of colour.

The beard, the hair, and the eyebrows were tinted black; such things as the fringes of robes, baldricks, flowers held in the hand, were coloured blue and red. The gaiety thus given brought a room into harmony, and prevented the cool grey of the alabaster slabs from presenting a disagreeable contrast with the brilliant tones spread over the roofs and upper walls.

We might thus restore the interior of an Assyrian apartment and arrive at a whole, some elements of which would be certainly authentic and others at least very probable. The efforts hitherto made in this direction leave much to be desired, and give many an opportunity to the fault-finding critic; and that because their makers have failed to completely master the spirit of Mesopotamian architecture as shown in its remaining fragments.[348]

It would be much less easy, it would in fact be foolhardy, to attempt the restoration of a hall from a Babylonian palace. Our information is quite insufficient for such a task. We may affirm, however, that where the architect had no stone to speak of, the decorations must have had a somewhat different character from those in which that invaluable material was freely used. The general tendencies of both countries must have been the same, but between Nineveh and Babylon, still more between the capital of Assyria and the towns of Lower Chaldaea, there were differences of which now and then we may succeed in catching a glance. Compelled to trust almost entirely to clay, the artist of Chaldaea must have turned his attention to colour as a decoration much more exclusively than his Assyrian rival.

His preoccupation with this one idea is betrayed very curiously in the facade of one of those ruined buildings at Warka which Loftus has studied and described.[349] We borrow his plan and elevation of the detail to which we refer (Fig. 119).



In the first place the reader will recognize those semicircular pilasters or gigantic reeds to which we have already alluded as strongly characteristic of Chaldaean architecture, and one of the most certain signs of its origin. The chevrons, the spiral lines and lozenges of the coloured decoration with which the semi-columns, and the salient buttress by which they are divided into two groups, are covered, should be curiously noticed. The ornament varies with each structural division. Loftus, however, was chiefly struck by the process used to build up the design. The whole face of the wall is composed of terra-cotta cones (Fig. 120) engaged in a mortar composed of mud mixed with chopped straw. The bases of these cones are turned outwards and form the surface of the wall. Some preserve the natural colour of the terra-cotta, a dark yellow, others have been dipped—before fixing no doubt—in baths of red and black colouring matter. By the aid of these three tints an effect has been obtained that, according to Loftus, is far from being disagreeable. The process may be compared to that of mosaic, cones of terra-cotta being substituted for little cubes of coloured stone or glass.[350]



Upon the same site M. Loftus found traces of a still more singular decoration. A mass of crude brick had its horizontal courses divided from each other by earthenware vases laid so that their open mouths were flush with the face of the wall. Three courses of these vases were placed one upon another, and the curious ornament thus made was repeated three times in the piece of wall left standing. The vases were from ten to fifteen inches long externally, but inside they were never more than ten inches deep, so that their conical bases were solid.[351] The dark shadows of their open mouths afforded a strong contrast with the white plaster which covered the brickwork about them. The consequent play of light and shadow unrelieved by colour was pleasing enough. In spite, however, of their thick walls, these vases could hardly resist successfully the weight of the bricks above and the various disintegrating influences set up by their contraction in drying. Most of the vases were broken when Loftus saw them, though still in place.

Cone mosaics and the insertion of vases among the bricks afforded after all but a poor opportunity to the decorative architect. Had the builders of Chaldaea possessed no more efficient means than these of obtaining beauty, their structures would hardly have imposed themselves as models upon their rich and powerful neighbours of Assyria so completely as they did. Some process was required which should not restrict the decorator to the curves and straight lines of the simpler geometrical figures, which should allow him to make use of motives furnished by the animal and vegetable kingdom, by man and those fanciful creations of man's intellect that resulted from his attempts to figure the gods. We can hardly doubt that the Chaldaeans, like their northern neighbours, made frequent use of paint in the decoration of the wide plaster walls that offered such a tempting surface to the brush. No fragment of such work has come down to us, but we have every reason to believe that the arrangement of motives and the choice of lines were the same as in Assyria. We may look upon the mural paintings in the Ninevite palaces as copies preserving for us the leading characteristics of their Chaldaean originals.

Even in Chaldaea, which had a drier climate than Assyria, paintings in distemper could not have had any very long life on external walls. They had not to do with the sky of Upper Egypt where years pass away without the fall of a single shower. Some means of fixing colour so that it should not be washed away by the first rain was sought, and it was found in the invention of enamel, in the coating of the bricks with a coloured material that when passed with them through the fire would be vitrified and would sink to some extent into their substance. A brick thus coated could never lose its colour; the latter became insoluble, and so intimately combined with the block to which it was attached that one could hardly be destroyed without the other. Sir H. Layard tells us that many fragments of brick found in the Kasr were covered with a thick glaze, the colours of which had in no way suffered with time. Fragments of ornaments and figures could be distinguished on some of them. The colours most often found were a very brilliant blue, red, dark yellow, white, and black.[352]

We have again to look to the Assyrian ruins for information as to the way in which these enamelled bricks were composed into pictures. No explorer has found anything in the remains of a Chaldaean city that can be compared to the archivolt of enamelled bricks discovered by M. Place over one of the gateways of the city founded by Sargon.[353]

We can hardly doubt however that the art of the enameller was discovered in Chaldaea and thence transported into Assyria. Everything combines to give us that assurance, an examination of the ruins in Mesopotamia and of the objects brought from them as well as the explicit statements of the ancients.

Every traveller tells that there is not a ruin at Babylon in which hundreds of these enamelled bricks may not be picked up, and they are to be found elsewhere in Chaldaea.[354] A certain number of fragments are now in the British Museum and the Louvre with indications upon them leaving no doubt as to whence they came.[355] As for the blocks of the same kind coming from Nineveh and its neighbourhood they are very numerous in our collections. It is easy therefore to compare the products of Chaldaean workshops with those of Assyrian origin. The comparison is not to the advantage of the latter. The enamel on the Babylonian bricks is very thick and solid; it adheres strongly to the clay, and even when brought to our comparatively humid climates it preserves its brilliancy. It is not so with bricks from Khorsabad and Nimroud, which rapidly tarnish and become dull when withdrawn from the earth that protected them for so many centuries. Their firing does not seem to have been sufficiently prolonged.[356]

Necessity is the mother of invention, the proverb says. If there be any country in which clay has been compelled to do all that lay in its power it must surely be that in which there was no other material for the construction and decoration of buildings. The results obtained by the enameller were pretty much the same in Assyria and Chaldaea, and we are inclined to look upon the older of the two nations as the inventor of the process, especially as it could hardly have done without it so well as its younger rival, and in this opinion we are confirmed by the superior quality of the Babylonian enamel. It is possible that there may be some truth in the assertion that most of the glazed bricks that have come down to us belonged to the restorations of Nebuchadnezzar; but even supposing that to be so, they show a technical skill so consummate and sure of itself that it must then have been very far removed from its infancy. The fatherland of the enameller is Southern Mesopotamia and especially Babylonia, where enamelled bricks seem to have been used in extraordinary quantities.

The wall of Dour-Saryoukin, the town built by Sargon, has been found intact for a considerable part of its height. As in the retaining wall of the palace, coloured brick has there been used with extreme discretion. It is found only over the arches of the principal doors and, perhaps, in the form of rosettes at the springing of the battlements. The remainder of the great breadths of crude brick was coated with white plaster.[357]

It was otherwise at Babylon. Ctesias, who lived there for a time, thus describes the palace on the right bank of the Euphrates: "In the interior of the first line of circumvallation Semiramis constructed another on a circular plan, upon which there are all kinds of animals stamped on the bricks while still unburnt; nature is imitated in these figures by the employment of colours[358].... The third wall, that in the middle, was twenty stades round ... on its towers and their curtain-walls every sort of animal might be seen imitated according to all the rules of art, both as to their form and colour. The whole represented the chase of various animals, the latter being more than four cubits (high)—in the middle Semiramis on horseback letting fly an arrow against a panther and, on one side, her husband Ninus at close quarters with a lion, which he strikes with his lance."[359]

Diodorus attributes all these buildings to his fabulous Semiramis. He was mistaken. It was the palace built by Nebuchadnezzar that he had before him; his eyes rested upon the works of those sovereigns of the second Chaldee empire who presided at a real art renaissance—at the re-awakening of a civilization that was never more brilliant than in the years immediately preceding its fall. The historian's mistake is of little importance here. We are mainly interested in the fact that he actually saw the walls of which he speaks and saw them covered with pictures, the material for which was furnished by enamelled brick.

These bricks must have been manufactured in no small quantity to permit of decorations in which there were figures nearly six feet high.[360] We may form some idea of this frieze of animals from one in the palace of Sargon at the foot of the wall on each side of the harem doorway (plate xv.).[361] As for the hunting incidents, we may imagine what they were like from the Assyrian sculptures (Fig. 5).

At Babylon as at Nineveh the palette of the enameller was very restricted. Figures were as a rule yellow and white relieved against a blue ground. Touches of black were used to give accent to certain details, such as the hair and beard, or to define a contour. The surface of the brick was not always left smooth; in some cases it shows hollow lines in which certain colours were placed when required to mark distinctive or complementary features. As a rule motives were modelled in relief upon the ground, so that they were distinguished by a gentle salience as well as by colour, a contrivance that increased their solidity and effect.[362] This may be observed on the Babylonian bricks brought to Europe by M. Delaporte, consul-general for France at Bagdad. They are now in the Louvre. On one we see the three white petals belonging to one of those Marguerite-shaped flowers that artists have used in such profusion in painted and sculptured decoration (Figs. 22, 25, 96, 116, 117). Another is the fragment of a wing, and must have entered into the composition of one of those winged genii that are hardly less numerous in Assyrian decoration (Figs. 4, 8, and 29). Upon a third you may recognize the trunk of a palm-tree and on a fourth the sinuous lines that edge a drapery.[363] M. de Longperier calculated from the dimensions of this latter fragment that the figure to which it belonged must have been four cubits high, exactly the height assigned by Ctesias to the figures in the groups seen by him when he visited the palace of the ancient kings.[364]

M. Oppert also mentions fragments which had formed part of similar important compositions. Yellow scales separated from one another by black lines, reminded him of the conventional figure under which the Assyrians represented hills or mountains; on others he found fragments of trees, on others blue undulations, significant, no doubt, of water; on others, again, parts of animals—the foot of a horse, the mane and tail of a lion. A thick, black line upon a blue ground may have stood for the lance of a hunter. Upon one fragment a human eye, looking full to the front, might be recognized.[365] We might be tempted to think that in these remains M. Oppert saw all that was left of the pictures which excited the admiration of Ctesias.

Inscriptions in big letters obtained by the same process accompanied and explained the pictures. The characters were white on a blue ground. M. Oppert brought together some fifteen of these monumental texts, but he did not find a single fragment upon which there was more than one letter. The inscriptions were meant to be legible at a considerable distance, for the letters were from two to three inches high. In later days Arab architects followed the example thus set and pressed the elegant forms of the cufic alphabet into their service with the happiest skill.[366]

For the composition of one of these figures of men or animals a large number of units was required, and in order that it might preserve its fidelity it was necessary not only that the separate pieces should exactly coincide but that they should be fixed and fitted with extreme nicety. At Babylon they were attached to the wall with bitumen. On the posterior surface of several enamelled bricks in the Louvre a thick coat of this substance may be seen; it has preserved an impression of all the roughnesses on the surface of the crude mass to which it was applied. It is impossible to decide whether this natural mortar was allowed to fill the joints between one enamelled square and another or not. None of these bricks have been found in place, and none, so far as we know, unbroken. The coat at the back may have rendered the adherence so complete that no further precaution was necessary. In Assyria, so far at least as Khorsabad is concerned, they were content with less trouble. The bricks forming the enamelled archivolt of which we have spoken are attached to the wall with a mortar in which there is but little adhesive power.[367] It offered no resistance when M. Place stripped the archway in order that he might enrich his own country with the spoils of Sargon. But for an accident that sent his boats to the bottom of the Tigris not far from Bassorah this beautiful gateway would have been rebuilt in Paris.[368]

To fit all these squares into their proper places was a delicate operation, but it was rendered easy by long practice. Signs, or rather numbers, for the guidance of the workmen, have been noticed upon the uncovered faces of the crude brick walls.[369] Still more skill was required for the proper distribution of a figure over the bricks by whose apposition it was to be created. No retouches were possible, because the bricks were painted before firing. The least negligence would be punished by the interruption of the contours, or by their malformation through a failure of junction between a line upon one brick and its continuation on the next. There was but one way to prevent such mistakes, and that was by preparing in advance what we should call a cartoon. On this the proposed design would be traced over a network of squares representing the junctions of the bricks. The bricks were then shaped, modelled, and numbered; each was painted according to the cartoon with its due proportion of ground or figure as the case might be, and marked with the same number as that on the corresponding square in the drawing.[370] The colour was laid separately on each brick; this is proved by the existence on their edges of pigment that has overflowed from the face and been fired at the same time as the rest.

Thus were manufactured those enamelled bricks upon which the modern visitor to the ruins of Babylon walks at every step. Broken, ground almost to powder as they are, they suffice to show how far the art of enamelling was pushed in those remote days, and how great an industry it must have been. We can have no doubt that colours fixed in the fire must have formed the chief element in the decoration of the buildings of Nebuchadnezzar, of that Babylon whose insolent prosperity so impressed the imagination and provoked the anger of the Jewish prophets. It was to paintings of this kind that Ezekiel alluded when he reproved Jerusalem under the name of Aholiba for its infidelity and its adoption of foreign superstitions: "For when she saw men portrayed upon the wall, the images of the Chaldaeans portrayed with vermilion, girded with girdles upon their loins, exceeding in dyed attire upon their heads, all of them princes to look to, after the manner of the Babylonians of Chaldaea, the land of their nativity."[371]

The "paintings in the temple of Belos," described by Berosus, were in all probability carried out in the same way. They decorated the walls of the great temple of Bel Merodach at Babylon, where "all kinds of marvellous monsters with the greatest variety in their forms" were to be seen.[372]

We see therefore, that both by sacred and profane writers is the important part played by these paintings in the palaces and temples of the capital affirmed. And Ctesias, who is not content with allusions, but enters into minute details, tells us how the work was executed, and how its durability was guaranteed. The modern buildings of Persia give us some idea as to the appearance of those of Babylon. No doubt the plan of a mosque differs entirely from that of a temple of Marduk or Nebo, but the principle of the decoration was the same. If the wand of an enchanter could restore the principal buildings of Babylon we should, perhaps, find more than one to which the following description of the great mosque of Ispahan might be applied with the change of a word here and there: "Every part of the building without exception is covered with enamelled bricks. Their ground is blue, upon which elegant flowers and sentences taken from the Koran are traced in white. The cupola is blue, decorated with shields and arabesques. One can hardly imagine the effect produced by such a building on an European accustomed to the dull uniformity of our colourless buildings; he is filled with an admiring surprise that no words can express."[373]

If we should set about making such a comparison, the principal difference to be noticed would be that arising out of the prohibitions of the Koran. The Persian potter had to content himself with the resources of pure ornament, resources upon which he drew with an exquisite skill that forbids us to regret the absence of men and animals from his work. The coloured surfaces of the Babylonian buildings must have had more variety than those of the great mosque at Ispahan or the green mosque at Broussa. But the same groups and the same personages were constantly repeated in the same attitudes and tints, so that their general character must have been purely decorative. Even when they were combined into something approaching a scene, care was taken to guard, by conventionality of treatment and the frequent repetition of familiar types and groups, against its attracting to itself the attention that properly belonged to the composition of which it formed a part. The artist was chiefly occupied with the general effect. His aim was to give a certain rhythm to a succession of traditional forms whose order and arrangement never greatly varied, to fill the wide surfaces of his architecture with contrasts and harmonies of colour that should delight the eye and prevent its fatigue.

Were the colours as soft and harmonious as we now see them in those buildings of Persia and Asia Minor that will themselves soon be little more than ruins? It is difficult to answer this question from the very small fragments we possess of the coloured decorations of the Babylonian temples and palaces, but the conditions have remained the same; the wants to be satisfied and the processes employed a century ago were identical with those of Babylon and Nineveh; architect and painter were confronted by the same dazzling sun, and, so far as we can tell, taste has not sensibly changed over the whole of the vast extent of country that stretches from the frontiers of Syria to the eastern boundaries of the plateau of Iran. New peoples, new religions, and new territorial divisions have been introduced, but industrial habits have remained; in spite of political revolutions the workman has transmitted the secrets of his trade to his sons and grandsons. Oriental art is now threatened with death at the hands of Western competition. Thanks to its machines Europe floods the most distant markets with productions cheaper than those turned out by the native workman, and the native workman, discouraged and doubtful of himself, turns to the clumsy imitation of the West, and loses his hold of the art he understood so well. Traditions have become greatly weakened during the last half century, but in the few places where they still preserve their old vitality they may surely be taken as representative of the arts and industries of many centuries ago, and as the lineal descendants of those early products of civilization on which we are attempting to cast new light. If, as everything leads us to believe, the colours and patterns worked by the women of Khorassan and Kurdistan on their rugs and carpets are identical with those on the hangings in the palaces of Sargon, of Nebuchadnezzar, and of Darius, why should we not allow that the tints that now delight us on the mosques of Teheran and Ispahan, of Nicaea and Broussa, are identical with those employed by the Chaldaean potter?

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