Assyria was an ancient political state situated on the Upper Tigris River, in Mesopotamia. This region now constitutes the Middle East, Iraq, and Syria. The Ancient Near East, Assyria, lasting during 2400 BC-612 BC, was considered the cradle of civilizations. The Assyrian Art that we see today actually belongs to the Neo-Assyrian period (1180 BC-609 BC). It features fine stone carvings, wall reliefs, and sculpting on ‘magnesite.’ Assyrians also used ‘gypsum’ slabs on which they carved with iron and copper tools.
Among some of the major art works of those times, were the massive, beautifully carved stalling reliefs in the Northwest Palace of Nimrud, built by King Ashurnasirpal II. Two colossal, winged, human headed lions known as the protective spirit ‘Lamassu Shedu,’ flanked the entrance of this palace. Similar structures are found at the entrance of the temple of ‘Istar’ (The Goddess of Love & War). ‘Ivory’ was treasured and used in most art forms in the Ancient Near East, Assyrian Art. Sumptuously carved ivory objects and fine ivories were later found in the Palace. The wooden furniture and doors of the state apartments in the royal residence of Nimrud were decorated with beautiful ‘bronze’ and ‘ivory’ panels. Such art forms displayed the luxurious lifestyles enjoyed by the Royalty in those times. The detailed reliefs of the Throne Room, which now rests in the British Museum in London, displays the king leading military campaigns and performing various rituals. They also exemplify the elaborate techniques of warfare and administration. In addition, the Royal sport of lion and bull hunt is depicted on the dramatic wall reliefs.
Similar illustrations of King Sennacherib, who built The Southwest Palace of Nineveh, provide an insight into the Ancient Near East’s quarrying transport techniques and building projects. The Metropolitan Museum of New York displays Cuneiform Clay Tablets, which were used to keep records such as public documents, scientific tracts, and the works of literature. Huge temple statues, a number of plaques, small pottery pieces, glass, royal seals, swords, and exquisite jewelry are also displayed here.
Though, Assyrian artists are highly praised for their flair of linear stylization, some of their depictions have created controversy. For instance, one of the ivory plaques put on display in the British Museum in London, shows the image of a lioness mauling a young African. While an ordinary eye may see just a beast gaining over a man, many art critics believe the mannerisms and the sumptuousness of the setting make it ambivalent and suggestive of a sensuous unity of man and the beast. Other hair raising illustrations of Assyrian Art in the British Museum are the large carved stone panels displaying triumphant scenes of war with panic stricken horses, severed bodies writhing in pain and bloodshed everywhere. The artist may have truly set one of the first examples of narrative art but the display gives Assyrians a reputation of remorseless brutes.
The Ancient Near East, Assyria, used art to educate and inspire societies. Their art reflected their culture and shed light on their dynasties, administration, and their way of living. In a way, it can be said that their art represents a form of visual encyclopedia of their identity and existence.