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Work Painting from Til Barsip
Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia
Painting from Til Barsip
© 2005 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing
Near Eastern Antiquities
Mostly discovered before the technical means were available to conserve them, few ancient oriental mural paintings have survived. This little goat, which was part of a frieze, is one of the rare examples of the painted decoration of Assyrian palaces.
A premature discovery
During excavations carried out in 1929-31 at Tell Ahmar - formerly Til Barsip - on the left bank of the Euphrates some 20 kilometers south of the Turkish border, the archaeological expedition of the Louvre led by François Thureau-Dangin discovered an outstanding set of mural paintings from the Neo-Assyrian period. Unfortunately, at the time of the discovery, the archaeologists lacked the technical means to conserve the fragile paintings. Only a few fragments could be saved; they were detached from the wall and shared between the Aleppo Museum and the Louvre. However, a complete color survey was first made by the architect Lucien Cavro on rolls of paper now in the Louvre; they provide valuable documentation on the painted decoration of Assyrian palaces.
Part of an Assyrian decoration
This palace was built some time after the conquest of the ancient Aramean city of Til Barsip by the Assyrian king Salmanasar III in 855 BC. The painted decor dating from the 8th century BC complemented or replaced the stone reliefs used in the big capitals. The decor is made up of large narrative compositions exalting the glory of the king and the power of the empire, as well as simple ornamental friezes. This fragment of painting, traditionally known as "the blue goat" - but more probably a wild male goat - was part of a frieze that decorated a corridor opening on to the audience hall. The frieze was made up of repeated groups of two ibexes in confrontation on either side of a decorative motif, in true oriental style. There is a striking contrast between the accurate observation of the animal and the symbolic nature of the blue color.
A recently-identified pictorial technique
The three paintings exhibited in the Louvre were restored in 1986-87. Studies carried out at the time of restoration revealed the composition of the pigments. The blue is an "Egyptian blue" made from a double silicate of calcium and copper, intended to imitate lapis lazuli. The outlines are drawn in carbon black of animal or vegetable origin; the red is a natural ochre based on iron oxide. The colors were laid on the bare clay, lightly prepared with whitewash.
Painting from Til Barsip
Neo-Assyrian period, 8th century BC
Ancient Til Barsip, present-day Tell Ahmar, renamed Kar-Salmanasar in the Assyrian period
Pigments on an unfired clay slip, paint laid on whitewash: red ochre, carbon black, Egyptian blue
H. 51.6 cm; W. 63.5 cm
Excavations by François Thureau-Dangin and Maurice Dunand, 1929-31
Known as "The blue goat"
Mesopotamia and northern Syria. Assyria: Til Barsip, Arslan Tash, Nimrud, Nineveh
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