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Art of the Babylonians: Style, Examples & Achievements

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  • 0:04 Babylon: Center of Eastern Art
  • 1:16 Babylonian Style
  • 2:39 Babylonian Artistic Triumphs
  • 4:26 Babylonian Artistic…
  • 5:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Sipper

Dr. Sipper holds a PhD in Education, a Master's of Education, and a Bachelor's in English. Most of his experience is in adult and post secondary education.

Art has been the defining characteristic of cultures for as long as civilizations have been in existence. With its use of symbols and culturally significant writing, Babylonian art has been at the forefront of shaping other cultures for millennia.

Babylon: Center of Eastern Art

Have you ever visited an old city or area with many great buildings, like Washington, D.C.? If you have, it was probably breathtaking. Now imagine walking into the ancient Babylonian Empire with its enormous buildings, temples, and statues.

As ancient civilizations go, the significance of Babylon is unmatched. Although Babylonian society is well known for its writing, building, and creation of ancient law codes, the art of Babylon is just as venerated.

Through the use of the science and technology of its age, Babylon was able to achieve dominance in the construction of magnificent structures as well as the fabrication of beautiful artistic works, representative of the most important societal values. These works reflected the laws and religion of the Babylonians, as well as their devotion to written and pictorial communication and understanding.

In this lesson, we'll discuss the artistic style of the Babylonians as well as some beautiful examples of art, including the Code of Hammurabi, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and Ishtar Gate, all of which spanned several centuries from the rule of Hammurabi through the rule of Nebuchadnezzar. Additionally, we will examine how these achievements were accomplished and their significance.

Babylonian Style

As with all cultures, the Babylonians had their own particular outlook on life, which mostly revolved around their religious and cultural beliefs and practices. You can see similar representations in the art and architecture of other societies today, as with the Sydney Opera House with its undeniable nautical theme or the Eiffel Tower, an iconic symbol of the Enlightenment and the new age in Paris.

The style of Babylonian art began with clay, the most widely available substance in that particular Middle-Eastern region. With clay, the artisans of Babylon were able to create fine pottery and structures, such as ziggurats, which were tall earthen temples used to get their priests closer to the gods.

Over time, artists branched out into other, more durable materials attained through trade. Some sculptures were made using a stone called diorite, which was dark and could be smoothed and polished to a high sheen. These sculptures were used for recording information, honoring leaders, and honoring gods, such as the Babylonian god Marduk.

The next and perhaps most significant stylistic movement in Babylonian art included the glazed, multi-colored brick walls that characterized the rich new age of Babylon. These glossy fantastical imaging techniques were perfected during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar and applied to some of the most important and iconic works of Babylonian art and architecture.

Babylonian Artistic Triumphs

Of the various antiquities of Babylon, there are three that have captured the minds of artists, archaeologists, and historians for centuries: The Code of Hammurabi stele, The Hanging Gardens, and the Ishtar Gate.

The most ancient of these works is the stele, which is a cylindrical diorite stone that's part sculpture and part engraving of the Code of Hammurabi. The significance of the code alone is monumental, but the fact that there is hard archaeological proof of the laws in the form of the stele is amazing. The sculpture atop the stele is beautifully carved and representative of the Babylonian worldview associated with presenting their laws before the gods. The figures themselves bespeak the Babylonian embrace of realism in their art.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, although still under historical scrutiny, were another amazing part of ancient Babylonian art. The city was built with terraces and balconies upon which all types of flowering vines and plants were cultivated. The effect of this mountain of greenery rising from the arid lands led Herodotus to proclaim the Hanging Gardens as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

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