Notebook, 1993-

[From: Woolley, Leonard. The Art of The Middle East, including Persia, Mesopotamia and Palestine. New York: Crown Publishers. 1961.]

1.Geography and History --- 2.Elam --- 3.Sumer --- 4.Sumer and Akkad --- 5.Syria & Palestine --- 6.Hurri & Hittites --- 7.Anatolia

The Art of The Middle East - Including
Persia, Mesopotamia and Palestine

Chapter Six [cont.]

The Hurri and The Hittites
Notes for this Chapter

It is to be noted that, except for such details as door-lintels, sculptured decoration was confined to the lowest courses of the walls: -it was at, or below, eye level; while therefore they were designed to add to the general appearance of the building, the carvings were also [p. 139] meant to be inspected at close quarters, just as the inscriptions which might accompany or take the place of figure subjects had to be within reading distance of the eye. To that extent the architectural sculpture of the Hittites can fairly be judged on its intrinsic merits, not merely as a subordinate branch of architecture; and, owing to the rarity of free sculpture, it is our main criterion for Hittite plastic art. Apart from a small fragment of a basalt lion's head found at Kültepe, the beginning of the second millennium, the earliest object to which attention should be drawn is a small diorite head [0.165 m. high] from Alalakh, probably a portrait of King Yarim-Lim, c. 1760 B.C. The head is a thing of real beauty, and its style is so distinctive that any parallel to it could not be overlooked, but 'there are no close parallels', says Professor Frankfort; 'it is the only piece of statuary found in Syria which was made by a thoroughly competent artist. This sureness of hand, the coherence of the work, betray a hand trained in a well-established school'. A central or south Syrian origin then can be ruled out; the contemporary sculptures of the Mari school have nothing in common with it, and one can but conclude that it belongs to an independent school of art which must be called Hurri. But it has no antecedents and really no successors, unless we reckon as such a fine basalt head, now in the Louvre, found at Jabbul near Aleppo, which is perhaps two centuries later in date but, coming from the territory of the king of Yamkhad, whose capital Aleppo was, should also be a Hurri work. In the fifteenth century there is evidence, again from Alalakh, of a local school of sculpture. The seated statue of King Idri-mi, carved in a smooth-grained white dolomite, [p. 140] has very little artistic merit. The sculptor has made free use of the drill, did the final shaping with the grinder, employed inlay for the eyes and eyebrows, in the traditional Sumerian manner, and probably relied largely upon paint for the detail; but his style marks a new departure. Simplification is carried to an extreme; detail is for the most part suppressed, and the figure is schematized without respect to reality; but this unrealistic mass is given life by a very skillful use of light upon the planes of the polished stone surface. That the sculptor belonged to a school seems to be implied by the fact that the heavy rolled edging of the king's dress [which is purely schematic and could not be produced by any cut of garment] is reproduced in a bronze figure found at Meshrifeh but certainly coming from a northern workshop; and simplification is carried even further in the only other stone sculpture of the period as yet known, a ram's head [possibly a gargoyle] found in the palace of Ilim-ilimma, Idri-mi's father. The head is carved in the same white stone, and although the character of the animal is unmistakable there is a complete absence of naturalism. The face is on two planes which meet at a very slight angle, the eyes and ridiculously small ears are in so low relief as to be scarcely noticeable in the frontal light, and only the great ringed horns are boldly cut; everything is made to depend upon the play of light on the polished surface, and with that the head takes on an appearance of life that owes nothing to any representational modelling. The ram is [p. 141] in its way a masterpiece, far more successful than the Idri-mi statue of a generation later.

It is to the middle of the fourteenth century that we may perhaps attribute the Alalakh lions already mentioned. The interest of them lies not only in their being probably the earliest known examples of what was to be a standard feature of Hittite and Syro-Hittite architecture, but also in their diversity. The motive was not altogether new, for the arms of Idri-mi's throne had been supported by lions whose bodies were carved in relief on the throne's side while their heads projected in the round; but the artists had not yet arrived at any fixed convention, and the Alalakh lions are still in the experimental stage. Whether or not these particular sculptures anticipate the BogazkŻy gates it is impossible to say, but the carvers of those gates were certainly influenced by what they had seen in Syria or had got from Syrian associations, for the sphinxes, unknown hitherto in Anatolia, are Egyptian sphinxes translated from male to female by Phoenician imitators. [2] Those gateways too are, as we have seen [p. 136], experimental. Only the sphinxes have the body carved in relief on the side of the block, in Alalakh fashion, and the relief is of the flat type, in two planes separated by sharply-cut edges, which we see at Alalakh, in the Alaca Höyük orthostats and in many Syro-Hittite monuments; it may well have been that here a Hurri artist was employed. But the Warrior relief is utterly different. The relief is very high, so much so that the head is almost in the three-quarter round, even the left eye and cheek being visible, the contours are rounded throughout, the musculature is meticulously rendered and such details as the hair on the warrior's chest and the patterns on his embroidered kilt are faithfully engraved. It is an astonishingly vigorous work, unlike anything in Syria. A parallel to it is afforded by a copper statuette found at BogazkŻy which is almost a miniature replica in the round of the gateway relief; less detailed, it has the same lively vigour, the same anatomical exactness and the same real artistry. If it be compared with a statuette from Lattaqiya which is a Syrian version, if not an actual copy, of the BogazkŻy figure then it becomes evident that the Warrior owes nothing to Syrian art but is essentially Anatolian.

The famous rock carvings of Yasilikaia may be a century later, c. 1260 B.C. and, as a royal monument, show the final development of Hittite art in the time of the New Kingdom. They are the work of several hands and in different styles. The reliefs in the main chamber represent Hurri gods whose Hurri names are given in hieroglyphs, [p. 142] and their representation is necessarily conventional; they are enlargements of the figures engraved on seals from the Hurri area of north Syria. In the smaller gallery both subject and style are in marked contrast. The great group of the king being embraced by the god Sharrumma reappears on the seals of the Hittite kings Muwatallis and Tudkhalia IV, and although the god bears a Hurri name the conception may well be Hittite, not uninspired by Egypt. The word-god in the same gallery is most likely to be Hittite: -a contemporary spear-head from Alalakh flanked by lions, found in a temple, may be due to Hittite influence, and a somewhat similar axe from Ugarit must surely be Anatolian because the blade is of iron. [3] Lastly, the small running soldiers are definitely Hittite. In all these sculptures the relief is high and rounded, and in the soldiers there is the liveliness and vigour which characterizes the Warrior of the BogazkŻy gate. If Yasilikaia dates from the reign of Tudkhalia IV then the Hurri names given to the gods might be due to the influence of Pudu-hepa, the king's Hurri mother; and she might have called upon a Hurri artist to do the work in the main gallery while Hittite artists were responsible for the rest. But the stylistic differences may not be thought to demand such an assumption. It must be admitted that the Alaca Höyük reliefs throw no light upon the problem. Here too we have two categories distinguished by subject and by treatment. There is a scene of sacrifice, in which the principal figures look like a provincial version of the figures in the Yasilikaia Great Gallery but the subordinate [p. 145] Hittite. But on the other hand on some seals [e.g., that of Lat-Kur, a Hittite scribe of Carchemish] Hittite figures are combined with the guilloche pattern which seems typical of Hurri art and occurs on the official seal of a king of Amurru, whose personal seal was Hittite, and on that of Ini-Teshub, whereon the inscription is not in hieroglyphic but in Akkadian cuneiform. The Bulla stamp seals are more informative, for those of the kings of Hattusas seem to reflect the history of Hittite sculpture. The seal of Suppiluliumas and his wife Tawananna is beautifully engraved with the hieroglyphs giving their names, but has no figures at all; the same is true of Mursilis II and of Hattusil III and his wife Pudu-hepa; only with the advent of Tudkhalia IV do we get figures on the seal, and then they reproduce those of Yasilikaia. It is fair to conclude that architectural sculpture begins, for the Hittites, with Suppiluliumas and his invasion of Syria, that it was for some time only sparingly used, and that when it did become more popular the artists employed were either Hurri [or Hurri-trained] or those accustomed to such small-scale work as seal-engraving or jewelry. From Carchemish comes a set of minute figures exquisitely carved in steatite or lapis lazuli set in gold caissons which, if it does not actually belong to the latter days of Hattusas, preserves its tradition, for the figures are those of the Yasilikaia rock-cut reliefs: similarly a gold amulet 0.025 m . high, found at Yuzgat and now in the British Museum, reproduces a Yasilikaia god. It may even be the [p. 146] case that the sculptor borrowed from the goldsmith and not vice versa. Hittite art was to flourish again after the destruction of Hattusas under the patronage of the kings of the various Syro-Hittite states which in northern Syria and the southern fringes of Anatolia maintained a precarious independence until the end of the seventh century B.C. For geographical and political reasons the artists were liable to be subject in a greater or lesser degree to the influence either of Assyria or of Phoenicia, but they did their best to adhere to Hittite tradition; in what had been the centres of Hittite colonial rule, such as Carchemish, Malatya and Marash, or within the frontiers of Hittite Anatolia, as at Bor and Ivriz, the Hittite style was likely to be preserved in its strictly classical form, while in provincial towns of later foundation the sculptor was more uninhibited, so that we get the crude and bizarre innovations of Tell Halaf and the unconventional but lively genre reliefs of Karatepe.

Many of the Syro-Hittite orthostats are still in the old technique, the relief consisting of two planes with the edges less or more rounded and internal detail rendered by incised lines, if at all. This was quite satisfactory so long as the subjects were mythological or symbolic. Although along the faŔades of the buildings there was a continuous line of such sculptures there was no unity binding the scenes together; on the contrary, the common practice of setting black and white stones alternately was a deliberate denial of unity; each slab was complete [p. 147] in itself and was meant to be seen by itself. A two-dimensional picture agrees best with this isolation because the figures, even though shown in violent action, are by their flatness made merely pictorial and confined within the frame of the slab's border. But very soon after 900 B.C. a new idea was introduced; wall-reliefs, instead of being mythological, took on a historical character. This meant that a single scene might extend over a number of slabs; each orthostat, instead of being isolated, was part of a continuous whole: and the change of purpose involved a change of treatment.

The innovation is an important one, and it has often been attributed to Assyrian influence, the Syro-Hittite sculptors borrowing the idea of historical relief from the wall decorations of Assur-nasir-apal or one of his predecessors. Syro-Hittite art was at times strongly influenced by Assyria, and this may well be a case in point. It can however be urged that the evidence rather favours the opposite view. In the first place, whereas the Syro-Hittite and the Assyrian reliefs are both historical they are so in essentially different ways: the Syro-Hittite are illustrative, picturing a single event; the Assyrian are narrative, figuring a sequence of events; the former is not likely to have been derived from the latter. As regards style, the earliest Syro-Hittite series, set up by Katuwas, king of Carchemish [c. 900 B.C.] has little or nothing in common with Assyrian art; a later king, Asadaruas [c. 840 B.C.] who was a vassal and tributary of Assur-nasir-apal, adopted a frank imitation of his overlord's style, but King Araras [c. 780 B.C.] developed the native style with only a minor indebtedness to Assyria. The dates are certainly in favour of Syro-Hittite intention, for the Katuwas reliefs preceded those of Nimrud by a quarter of a century. Assur-nasir-apal's magnificent carvings appear 'out of the blue', with , as is explained in Chapter VIII, no real precedent and no apprentice phase; in the case of the Syro-Hittite reliefs we can trace at least a measure of development which implies originality.

At Carchemish there survive two historical friezes of King Katuwas, the first of which is the Long Wall of Sculpture, celebrating the rebuilding of the Storm-god's temple and the return of the gods to its shrine; a line of infantry and chariotry [the latter still on the field of battle, treading down the enemy] advance towards the temple, the gods at their head, and on the stairway at the wall's end the procession of welcome awaits them. Because it was a new departure the artist has not risen fully to the occasion; there is a mixture of basalt and limestone slabs upsetting the continuity of the scene, and although there is [p. 148] a certain amount of modelling the figures are still very flat. A century later, in the reign of King Araras, c. 780 B.C., the implications of the historical frieze have been realized. The whole process is clearly shown by the composite structure of the King's Gate. Here the building had a faŔade decorated with the old-style mythological and symbolic scenes treated individually on alternate slabs of basalt and limestone; even if they are not of the second millennium B.C., as I and others have held them to be, they are very much older than the time of Katuwas. To this faŔade Katuwas added on his Processional Entry, of which there remain the slabs of soldiers advancing towards the temple and, further on, the long file of temple servants and priestesses coming from the temple in the wake of the goddess; the slabs are alternately black and white and the relief is for the most part very flat--only in the case of the temple servants, where the upper plane is broken up into smaller areas, does the rounding of its edges produce the effect of sculptured relief. Interpolated in the middle of Katuwas' work is the Royal Buttress of King Araras, showing the officers at the head of the infantry, and the king and his family meeting them. The whole thing is carried out in basalt, and this alone suffices to give unity. The character of the relief has changed; although the dresses are still flat and unrelieved [except for slight vertical folds very cleverly introduced] the faces and limbs are moulded with extreme delicacy so that they stand out from the stone in the half-round, and their liveliness ties them together into a single composition. The aim of the artist is evident; he is combining the static dignity of monumental sculpture with the vividness of representational art, and the contrast between his work and the dullness of the long procession adjoining it is sufficient proof of his mastery. [p. 150] We do not find on other sites such developed artistry as distinguishes the work of Araras' sculptor at Carchemish. The older reliefs at Malatya are more in the spirit of the thirteenth-century Anatolian rock-carvings, and those of later date, e.g., the hunting scenes, are scarcely up to the Katuwas level; only at Marash does the stela of a scribe, Tarhunpijas, show, through with less finished technique, the sense of genuine relief that we have in the Royal Buttress. At Sinjirli the workmanship of the later slabs is admirable, but the style is too profoundly influenced by Assyrian models for them to rank as representative of Hittite art, and the same is true of the Sakje-geuzi reliefs; in both cases we are dealing with sculpture of the ninth century and cannot therefore expect to find the fully developed style of the Royal Buttress, but may well doubt whether the local artists would have rid themselves of the foreign mannerisms. It is true that at Carchemish some of the work of Asadaruas' time, especially certain figures on the staircase walls, betray Assyrian elements, but only at Carchemish are such eliminated by the artists of the following century; most of the Syro-Hittite sculptors were too indoctrinated in the style of the foreign overlords to regain freedom. Thus the rock-carving at Ivriz, the most famous of the huge out-door reliefs of the Syro-Hittite period, combines the figure of the Luvian weather-god Tarhund, represented for the most part in traditional fashion, with that of his worshipper, King Urpalla [c. 750 B.C.], which is unmistakably Assyrian.

The earliest examples of Syro-Hittite sculpture in the round are two statues from Carchemish and one from Sinjirli, all from the time of Katuwas, i.e., the early ninth century B.C.; they show two distinct contemporary styles. The seated statue of the god Atarluhas at Carchemish is quite definitely in the tradition of the Idri-mi statue of four hundred years before; the basic design is that of a solid triangle set upon a cube; there is no suggestion of any bodily shape underlying the geometrical contours of the drapery, all detail is eliminated and the schematisation is carried to the point of abstraction. At the same time the artist, by a skilled manipulation of plane surfaces, does succeed in imbuing with brute strength and life [4] the almost shapeless mass of stone and so suggests divinity. The second statue was a replica of that fund at Sinjirli; -it might well have been the work of the same journeyman sculptor, employed on both sites. This ill-proportioned figure, having no claim to artistic merit, seems to be an attempt to translate into Hittite idiom the formula for the rigid [p. 151] column-like statues of Assyria. For political rather than for artistic reasons it was the latter style that was to prevail. Whereas Atarluhas has no better successor than the monstrous goddess of provincial Tell Halaf, the colossal figure of the king from Malatya, which belongs to the last few years of the eighth century, is imposing not only in virtue of its bulk but also of a dignity which the exaggerated size of the head cannot altogether dispel; and the workmanship of it is excellent; but in this Assyrian pastiche there is left nothing typically Hittite. The small Syro-Hittite states were indeed bound to be overshadowed by the culture of the powerful empire which was in the end to absorb them; only those too remote or too insignificant to be in touch with the great power might provide stone-cutters unaware of the art tendencies of their time. But in such backwaters only indifferent workers would be found. At Karatepe we find side by side with conventional Hittite themes some which are borrowed not from Assyria but via the Phoenicians from Egypt, while some show originality and even invention; but the execution is lamentable. At Tell Halaf it is worse. In the major centres however the technical skill of the craftsmen does merit admiration. They were hampered by the qualities of their material.

The course white limestone could seldom be worked to a good finish and therefore had to be stucco-coated, and as both stucco and paint have disappeared it is impossible for us to judge the final effect. [5] Basalt has a pitted surface and is difficult to cut, but the better sculptors accepted the challenge. The two sphinxes of the column-base at Sinjirli have plumage of breast and wings which is a marvel of stone-cutting; and if that meticulously detailed work goes ill with the hard and almost archaic silhouette of the flat bodies it is artistry, not craftsmanship, that is lacking. The lion column-base from Tell Taynat is, on the contrary, a masterpiece of design, and the virtuosity of the beasts' heads and manes is matched by the delicate musculature of the bodies; we may detect Assyrian influence, but the artist has transformed his model into something entirely his own.

It is perhaps true to say that the history of Hittite sculpture is one of promise rather than of fulfillment. In Anatolia the New Kingdom had no sooner arrived at the point when it could produce the Yasilikaia carvings than the incursion of the Peoples of the Sea swept the Hittites out of Asia Minor. The Syro-Hittites, combining Anatolian tradition with something of the old Hurri culture, developing too a finer technique than Anatolia had known, achieved such mastery [p. 152] as is illustrated by Araras' work at Carchemish, and a generation later were finally crushed by Assyria. But their art was not sterile. Before it had matured it had set an example which was not merely to influence but virtually to create the sculpture of Assyria and that of the Persian Achaemenids.

There is but little material for assessing the Syro-Hittite performance in the minor arts. Cylinder seals are indeed numerous, and the cutting of many of them is excellent, especially when the stone used is haematite--as in basalt sculptures, the gem-cutter seems to have welcomed the challenge to his skill made by the stone's hardness. There is sometimes a strong Egyptian influence--Egyptian gods are represented, Egyptian symbols occur and the human characters may wear Egyptian dress, so that the history of the past, when Pharaoh disputed with Mitanni or Hittite in the north Syrian provinces, has here its visible reminder. Here indeed, as in all else, the better-class Syro-Hittite glyptic is conservative; it is the old Hurri art, borrowing motives from its neighbours north and south but consistently preserving its own style. If we look back to the seals of the fourteenth-century north Syrian kinglets found in the archives of Ugarit, the parentage of the Syro-Hittite seals is at once apparent. In both, the Hittite gods are represented in the same fashion, treading upon beasts or mountains, similarly dressed and armed; in both, there are groups of minor figures arranged in two registers separated by a guilloche band; in both there may be pairs of animals, lions or stags, facing each other or back to back beneath a palm-tree; in both the ground is apt to be crowded with small subsidiary figures or symbols, stars, the winged disk, etc. [p. 153]

The main difference is that the Syro-Hittite cylinders are relatively speaking poorly engraved, the work is scratchy, and in the few well-dated examples of the latter part of the period [eighth-seventh century B.C.; e.g., those from Carchemish] lamentably bad. This is true even of the best seals; in the case of those which belonged to the ordinary middle-class citizen, where the material was often glazed frit, the drawing is crude and the subjects tend to be more Assyrian than traditional Hittite: the half-dozen examples found in the later eighth-seventh century cemetery at Yunus by Carchemish might pass as Assyrian products. For the history of Hittite art such things have only a negative significance.


[Woolley, Leonard. The Art of The Middle East, including Persia, Mesopotamia and Palestine. New York: Crown Publishers. 1961.]



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