- Choose one (1) example of art or architecture from the Prehistoric Aegean AND one (1) example of art or architecture from any previous week’s material—either from the Stone Age, Mesopotamia, and Persia, or Egypt—to put in direct conversation with each other.
- Provide a detailed visual analysis of both works in individual paragraphs (i.e. one paragraph describing the Aegean work and one paragraph describing a work from either the Stone Age, Mesopotamia and Persia, or Egypt).
- Remember, your visual analysis paragraphs should describe the visual and physical elements clearly. This means explaining the how the lines, colors, shapes, patterns, light, contrast, perspective, scale, etc. appear in as much detail as possible to give your reader a good idea of the overall visual composition.
- Provide a thoughtful compare and contrast analysis of both works in a third, separate paragraph.
- In this paragraph, make sure to describe the key similarities and differences you notice and explain what you think we can learn from these similarities and differences. You may choose to focus on the visual elements (principles of design), materials, techniques, purposes, uses, and/or meanings in your compare and contrast analysis.
- For instance, you could focus on the different materials used and how this difference shows the types of materials that were either available or preferred in different parts of the ancient Middle East and the Mediterranean regions. Or, you could focus on the similar experiences the artworks or monuments were meant to provide visitors, and thus how they share similar purposes and meanings, despite the differences in style
#1 Fortified Palaces for a Hostile World
In contrast to the Minoans, whose sprawling palaces ( FIGS. 4-4 and 4-5 ) were unprotected by enclosing walls, the Mycenaeans were fearsome warriors who inhabited a hostile world. The palatial administrative centers of their Cretan predecessors did not provide useful models for royal residences on the mainland. Consequently, the Mycenaeans had to develop an independent solution for housing—and protecting—their kings and their families and attendants.
Construction of the citadels of Tiryns ( FIGS. 4-15 and 4-16 ) and Mycenae ( FIG. 4-19 ) began about 1400 bce. Both burned (along with all the other Mycenaean strongholds) between 1250 and 1200 bce when northern invaders overran the Mycenaeans, they fell victim to internal warfare, or they suffered a natural catastrophe—or a combination of these factors. Homer called Tiryns the city “of the great walls.” In the second century ce, when Pausanias, author of an invaluable Roman guidebook to Greece, visited the long-abandoned site, he marveled at the towering fortifications and considered the walls of Tiryns to be as spectacular as the pyramids of Egypt. Indeed, the Greeks of the historical age believed that mere humans could not have erected these enormous edifices. They attributed the construction of the great Mycenaean citadels to the mythical Cyclopes , a race of one-eyed giants. Architectural historians still employ the term Cyclopean masonry to refer to the huge, roughly cut stone blocks forming the massive fortification walls of Tiryns and other Mycenaean sites.
The Mycenaean engineers who designed the circuit wall of Tiryns compelled would-be attackers to approach the palace ( FIG. 4-15 ) within the walls via a long ramp that forced the soldiers (usually right-handed; compare FIG. 4-27 ) to expose their unshielded sides to the Mycenaean defenders above. Then—if they got that far—the enemy forces had to pass through a series of narrow gates that also could be defended easily.
Inside, at Tiryns as elsewhere, the most important element in the palace plan was the megaron , or reception hall and throne room, of the wanax (Mycenaean king). The main room of the megaron had a throne against the right wall and a central hearth bordered by four Minoan-style wood columns serving as supports for the roof. A vestibule with a columnar facade preceded the throne room. The remains of the megarons at Tiryns and Mycenae are scant, but at Pylos, home of Homer’s King Nestor (and the Griffin Warrior), archaeologists found sufficient evidence to enable them to visualize the original appearance of its megaron, complete with mural and ceiling paintings ( FIG. 4-18A ).
#2 White Temple, Uruk
The layout of Sumerian cities reflected the central role of the gods in daily life. The main temple to each state’s chief god was its most important structure and the city’s nucleus. In fact, the temple complex was a kind of city within a city, where a staff of priests and scribes carried on official administrative and commercial business as well as oversaw all religious functions.
The outstanding preserved example of early Sumerian temple architecture is the 5,000-year-old White Temple ( FIGS. 2-2 and 2-3 ) at Uruk, a city that in the late fourth millennium bce was about 500 acres in size and had a population of about 40,000. Usually only the foundations of early Mesopotamian temples remain. The White Temple is a rare exception. Sumerian builders did not have easy access to stone quarries and instead formed mud bricks for the superstructures of their temples and other buildings. Mud brick is a durable building material, but unlike stone, it deteriorates with exposure to water. Almost all the Sumerian mud-brick structures have eroded over the course of time. The Sumerians nonetheless erected towering works, such as the Uruk temple, several centuries before the Egyptians built their famous stone pyramids. The construction of grandiose shrines when stone was unavailable says a great deal about the Sumerians’ desire to provide inspiring settings for the worship of their deities.
Enough of the White Temple at Uruk remains to permit a fairly reliable reconstruction ( FIG. 2-3 ). The temple (whose white gypsum-coated walls suggested its modern nickname) stands atop a lofty platform 43 feet above street level at the city’s highest point, called Kullaba. A stairway on one side leads to the top, but does not end in front of any of the temple doorways, necessitating two or three angular changes in direction. This bent-axis plan is the standard arrangement for Sumerian temples, a striking contrast to the linear approach that the Egyptians preferred for their temples and tombs (compare FIGS. 3-10 and 3-20 ).
As in other Sumerian temples, the corners of the White Temple are oriented to the cardinal points of the compass. The building, probably dedicated to Anu, the sky god, is of modest proportions (61 by 16 feet). By design, Sumerian temples did not accommodate large throngs of worshipers but only a select few, the priests and perhaps the leading community members. The White Temple had several chambers. The central hall, or cella , was the divinity’s room and housed a stepped altar. The Sumerians referred to their temples as “waiting rooms,” a reflection of their belief that the deity would descend from the heavens to appear before the priests in the cella. It is unclear whether the Uruk temple had a roof, and if it did, what kind.
The Sumerian notion of the gods residing above the world of humans is central to most of the world’s religions. Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from the Hebrew God, and the Greeks placed the home of their gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus. The elevated placement of Mesopotamian temples on giant platforms reaching to the sky is consistent with this widespread religious concept. The loftiness of the Sumerian temple platforms made a profound impression on the peoples of ancient Mesopotamia. The tallest, at Babylon, was about 270 feet high. Known to the Hebrews as the Tower of Babel, it became the centerpiece of a biblical story about the arrogant and disrespectful pride of humans (see “ Babylon, City of Wonders ”).