Assyrian art and architecture has been the subject of scholarly interest, analysis, and debate since the mid-19th century when archaeological excavations began to reveal physical evidence of this vanished civilization. Initially viewed as historical documents for illuminating the world of the Hebrew Bible, late-20th- and early-21st-century work has utilized current art historical theory to explore multiple levels of meaning expressed in the layout of buildings, as well as the form of objects and their associated visual imagery. It is clear that Assyrian art and architecture is inseparable from Mesopotamian studies in general. Both the cultural background of earlier periods in northern Mesopotamia and the parallel history of Assyria’s southern and western neighbors, Babylonia and Syria, are intimately linked and highly relevant to Assyrian cultural practices of all kinds. The Oxford Bibliographies article Babylonian Art and Architecture is essential reading for introducing the broader study of ancient Mesopotamian visual culture, as well as the fields of archaeology and ancient history that an understanding of Assyrian art and architecture depends on. “Assyrian” here denotes northern Iraq in the period, extending from the 14th to the 7th century BC, during which the cities of Ashur (alternate spelling: Assur), Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), Khorsabad (ancient Dur-Sharrukin), and Nineveh were the successive political capitals of the region. The nature and extent of Assyrian culture and its influence beyond the Assyrian heartland, especially during the period c. 900–610 BC when Assyria came to dominate the entire Near East both militarily and politically, is a matter of continuing investigation. The entire period is literate, and detailed historical information is available.
Assyrian Art and Society
The study of ancient Assyrian visual culture depends on an understanding of the fields of archaeology and ancient history. Any study of the subject requires an introduction to a social, cultural, and material context different from any modern comparator. As well as general surveys of the imagery and media seen in Mesopotamian art, therefore, this section provides a critical reading dealing with a different approach than our contemporary systems of visual interpretation and engagement investigating how the images, their significance, and their power were understood in their ancient context. A useful starting point is Frankfort 1996, an updated version of the author’s original 1954 publication. Other surveys, such as Moortgat 1969 and Parrot 1961, are useful for placing Assyrian art in a broader context of Mesopotamian art; however, their approaches are somewhat dated. Aruz, et al. 2014 provides a modern review of key artefacts and situates Assyrian art in the context of its Western neighbors. A significant development in the interpretation of ancient Mesopotamian art is reflected in the work of Bahrani 2003, which applies 21st-century theory to the imagery.
Aruz, Joan, Sarah Graff, and Yelena Rakic, eds. Assyria to Iberia: At the Dawn of the Classical Age. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.
A catalogue of an exhibition that surveys the art of the 1st millennium BC, focusing on the interaction between societies. Places Assyria in the context of neighboring cultures, especially with those of the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean, with essays on the history and art of the period.
Bahrani, Z. The Graven Image: Representation in Babylon and Assyria. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.
Innovative, theoretically informed study of representation in ancient Mesopotamian art. Considers the functions and meanings of images in society, their production, and magical and religious roles. Particularly important for its discussion of ancient Mesopotamian concepts of the image as an active participant in the world, and the perceived supernatural powers and properties of representations.
Frankfort, Henri. The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient. 5th ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.
Influential survey of ancient Near Eastern art and architecture. Compartmentalized approach with Mesopotamia at the center and therefore dated in its approach but nonetheless remains essential reading in its revised edition.
Groenewegen-Frankfort, H. Arrest and Movement: An Essay on Space and Time in the Representational Art of the Ancient Near East. London: Faber & Faber, 1951.
For its time, this was a groundbreaking examination of the formal representation of space and time in the art of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Crete. Interprets the art’s significance as an issue of cultural rather than aesthetic necessity.
Moortgat, Anton. The Art of Mesopotamia: The Classical Art of the Near East. London and New York: Phaidon, 1969.
First published as Die Kunst des alten Mesopotamien: Die klassische Kunst Vorderasiens. Translated from the German by Judith Filson. A broad survey of Mesopotamian art with some interesting coverage of the Middle Assyrian material rarely included in comparable studies.
Parrot, André. Nineveh and Babylon: The Arts of Mankind. London: Thames and Hudson, 1961.
The partner volume to Babylonian Art and Architecture: Sumer: The Dawn of Art (1960), this book captures the full sweep of Assyrian art from the 13th to 7th century BC, as well as the later Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid periods. Especially useful for color reproductions of the wall paintings from the Assyrian provincial center of Til Barsip (see Thureau-Dangin and Dunand 1936, cited under Palace and Temple Architecture).
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Adornment, Dress, and African Arts of the Body
- Ancient Egyptian Art
- Ancient Pueblo (Anasazi) Art
- Angkor and Environs
- Art and Architecture in the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary
- Art and Propaganda
- Art of Medieval Iberia
- Art of the Crusader Period in the Levant
- Art of the Dogon
- Art of the Mamluks
- Art of the Plains Peoples
- Arts of Senegambia
- Arts of the Pacific Islands
- Assyrian Art and Architecture
- Aztec Empire, Art of the
- Babylonian Art and Architecture
- Bamana Arts and Mande Traditions
- Barbizon Painting
- Bernini, Gian Lorenzo
- Bohemia and Moravia, Renaissance and Rudolphine Art of
- Borromini, Francesco
- Brazilian Art and Architecture, Post-independence
- Burkina Art and Performance
- Byzantine Art and Architecture
- Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da
- Carracci, Annibale
- Chaco Canyon and Other Early Art in the North American Sou...
- Chicana/o Art
- Chimú Art and Architecture
- Conceptual Art and Conceptualism
- Contemporary Art
- Courbet, Gustave
- Czech Modern and Contemporary Art
- Daumier, Honoré
- David, Jacques-Louis
- Delacroix, Eugène
- Design, Garden and Landscape
- Destruction in Art
- Dürer, Albrecht
- Early Christian Art
- Early Medieval Architecture in Western Europe
- Eighteenth-Century Europe
- Ethiopia, Art History of
- European Art, Historiography of
- European Medieval Art, Otherness in
- Eyck, Jan van
- Festivals in West Africa
- French Impressionism
- Gender and Art in the Middle Ages
- Gender and Art in the Renaissance
- Giotto di Bondone
- Gothic Architecture
- Goya y Lucientes, Francisco José
- Greek Art and Architecture
- Greenberg, Clement
- Géricault, Théodore
- Iconography in the Western World
- Installation Art
- Islamic Art and Architecture in North Africa and the Iberi...
- Japanese Architecture
- Jewish Art, Ancient
- Jewish Art, Medieval to Early Modern
- Jewish Art, Modern and Contemporary
- Jones, Inigo
- Kahlo, Frida
- Lastman, Pieter
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Markets and Auctions, Art
- Marxism and Art
- Maya Art
- Medieval Art and Liturgy (recent approaches)
- Medieval Textiles
- Merovingian Period Art
- Moche Art
- Modern Sculpture
- Monet, Claude
- Māori Art and Architecture
- Museums in Australia
- Museums of Art in the West
- Nasca Art
- Native North American Art, Pre-Contact
- New Media Art
- New Spain, Art and Architecture
- Olmec Art
- Pacific Art, Contemporary
- Palladio, Andrea
- Parthenon, The
- Performance Art
- Perspective from the Renaissance to Post-Modernism, Histor...
- Philip II and El Escorial
- Photography, History of
- Pollock, Jackson
- Postmodern Architecture
- Pre-Hispanic Art of Columbia
- Psychoanalysis, Art and
- Qing Dynasty Painting
- Rembrandt van Rijn
- Renaissance and Renascences
- Rivera, Diego
- Rodin, Auguste
- Roman Art
- Science and Conteporary Art
- Sculpture: Method, Practice, Theory
- South Asia and Allied Textile Traditions, Wall Painting of
- South Asia, Modern and Contemporary Art of
- South Asia, Photography in
- South Asian Architecture and Sculpture, 13th to 18th Centu...
- South Asian Art, Historiography of
- The Art of Medieval Sicily and Southern Italy through the ...
- Theory in Europe to 1800, Art
- Timurid Art and Architecture
- Turner, Joseph Mallord William
- van Gogh, Vincent
- Viking Art
- Warburg, Aby
- Warhol, Andy
- Wari (Huari) Art and Architecture
- Wittelsbach Patronage from the late Middle Ages to the Thi...
- Women, Art, and Art History: Gender and Feminist Analyses
- Yuan Dynasty Art