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Work Frieze of a mosaic panel
Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia
Frieze of a mosaic panel
© 1988 RMN
Near Eastern Antiquities
These inlaid mosaics, composed of figures carved in mother-of-pearl, against a background of small blocks of lapis lazuli or pink limestone, set in bitumen, are among the most original and attractive examples of Mesopotamian art. It was at Mari that a large number of these mosaic pieces were discovered. Here they depict a victory scene: soldiers lead defeated enemy captives, naked and in chains, before four dignitaries.
A victory scene
The pieces that make up this shell mosaic composition were found scattered on the floor of the Temple of Ishtar, and therefore the reconstruction of the original panel is based on guesswork, all the more so in that the shell pieces are missing. The shell figures were arranged on a wooden panel covered with a layer of bitumen. The whole composition was organized in several registers, and the frame of the panel was emphasized by a double red and white line of stone and shell. The spaces between the figures were filled by small tiles of gray-black shale. The panel depicts the end of a battle, with soldiers leading their stripped and bound captives before dignitaries. The soldiers wear helmets, carry spears or adzes, and are dressed in kaunakes (fleecy skirts or kilts) and scarves. The dignitaries wear kaunakes and low fur hats, and each carries a long-handled adze on the left shoulder. Their leader appears to be a shaven-headed figure: stripped to the waist and wearing kaunakes, he carries a standard showing a bull standing on a pedestal. The lower register, on the right, features traces of a chariot drawn by onagers, a type of wild ass.
The art of mosaic
Many fragments of mosaic panels were discovered in the temples of Mari. Used to decorate the soundboxes of musical instruments, "gaming tables," or simple rectangular wooden panels, the pieces of mosaic seen here were like scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle when they were found. Mosaic pictures were particularly prized in Mesopotamia. Fragments can be found in Kish, Tello, and Tell Asmar, in Mesopotamia, and in Ebla, Syria, where these extremely fragile works of art did not survive the destruction of the buildings in which they were housed. Only the Standard of Ur (Mesopotamia) has been preserved, an object which offers many points of comparison with the present work, since one side of this artifact is devoted to the theme of war. We know that the fragments discovered at Mari were manufactured locally, for the workshop of an engraver using mother-of-pearl was found in the palace. By the delicacy of their carving and engraving, the mother-of-pearl figures produced in this capital of a kingdom on the Middle Euphrates distinguish it from other centers of artistic production; they sometimes even surpass works of art produced in the Mesopotamian city of Ur. One of the distinctive features of Mari is the diversity of the scenes depicted: battles and scenes of offerings made to the gods, religious scenes with priests and priestesses, and sacrifices of rams.These scenes provide us with invaluable insights into the social, political, and religious life of Mari.
BibliographyContenau G., Manuel d'archéologie orientale depuis les origines jusqu'à Alexandre : les découvertes archéologiques de 1930 à 1939, IV, Paris : Picard, 1947, pp. 2049-2051, fig. 1138
Parrot A., Les fouilles de Mari, première campagne (hiver 1933-1934), Extr. de : Syria, 16, 1935, paris : P. Geuthner, pp. 132-137, pl. XXVIII
Parrot A., Mission archéologique de Mari : vol. I : le temple d'Ishtar, Bibliothèque archéologique et historique, LXV, Paris : Institut français d'archéologie du Proche-Orient, 1956, pp. 136-155, pls. LVI-LVII
Frieze of a mosaic panel
Circa 2500-2400 BC
Temple of Ishtar, Mari (Tell Hariri), Syria
Shell and shale
André Parrot excavations, 1934-36
Room 1 b
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