- Unlike the Greeks, who painted elaborate and often exquisite designs and pictures on their pottery, the ancient Mesopotami-ans rarely painted their ceramics. However, Mesopotamian artists did paint figurines and carved reliefs, as evidenced by tiny traces of the original paint found still clinging to their surfaces. The most numerous and impressive ancient Mesopotamian paintings, however, were wall murals, which graced the interiors of palaces, temples, and well-to-do homes.The pigments for the paints were made mainly from mineral substances. Black pigment came from soot or tar, for instance; white from gypsum; red from iron oxide; blue from copper oxide or lapis lazuli; and green from malachite. The use of yellow seems to have been rare. The artist mixed the pigments with egg whites or milk solids, which acted as binding agents to make the paint adhere better to the wall surface. First, he treated that surface with a plaster or paste made from a mix of mud and lime or gypsum and let it dry. Then he used a pointed tool to sketch the outlines of his picture, and finally he applied the paint. This dry-surface technique was used in Sumeria and in early Babylonia and Assyria. In the late second millennium B.C., however, it became more common to apply the paint to the wet plaster, a method called fresco. An advantage of the fresco method was that the paint combined with the plaster as it dried, making the colors last longer; a disadvantage was that the artist had to work very fast to finish the work before the paint dried. The subjects of Mesopotamian paintings most often included religious ceremonies, royal processions, battles, hunting expeditions, and mythical beings and animals.As for the survival of these paintings, examples in various states of preservation have been found at Nippur, Uruk, Nuzu, Dur-Sharukkin, and elsewhere. Among the best preserved of all are those from two sites on the upper Euphrates, Mari and Til Barsip. At Mari, the ruins of the palace of the eighteenth-century B.C. king Zimri-Lim have yielded twenty-six rooms of wall paintings, many of them in excellent condition. (When the soldiers of Babylonia's King Hammurabi attacked, they knocked the walls of the palace's upper story inward, thereby creating a barrier that protected the walls of the story below and preserved the paintings for posterity.) One particularly fine painting shows the king taking his oath of office in front of the goddess Ishtar (or Inanna). At Til Barsip, the Assyrian king Tiglathpileser III erected a palace whose wall paintings are still fairly vivid. There are scenes of warfare and hunting. And one outstanding 70-foot (21m) panel shows Tiglathpileser on his majestic throne, surrounded by soldiers and courtiers.Another form of ancient Mesopota-mian painting, less common but no less beautiful than the wall murals, consisted of paintings on enameled bricks. These were used on the exteriors of palaces, where the enamels resisted the corrosive effects of the weather. The artist mixed his pigments with melted silica, a kind of stone dust, to make a glaze or enamel that was applied directly to the surfaces of the bricks. Perhaps the best-known examples are the outer surfaces of Babylon's Ishtar Gate, created by the artists of King Nebuchadnezzar in the early 500s b.c. Pictured are bulls, lions, and dragons.
Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. Don Nardo Robert B. Kebric. 2015.
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