Sumerian Art – Introduction

Hi everyone and welcome back to Exploring Art with Alessandro! Sumerian Art – Introduction

Today we are going to start a new series about one of the most ancient art styles: Sumerian.

The name comes from the region of southern Mesopotamia known as Sumer, and it is in Sumer that we find some of the oldest known cities, in particular Ur and Uruk.

Mesopotamia Map - Sumerian cities
Mesopotamia Map with Main cities

Mesopotamia Sumerian Art – Introduction

Mesopotamia is a historical region of Western Asia situated within the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It corresponds with much of Iraq, Kuwait, Syria and Southeastern Turkey. And, thanks to its location, was a very fertile land that has been the birthplace of some of the most advanced populations: the Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians.

The Start of History

Sumer is the earliest known civilization since they started to settle in the region already between 5,000 and 4,000 BC. However it’s around 3,000 BC when prehistory ends. In the city of Uruk in fact have been found some of the earliest written records. Uruk, like the other Sumerian cities, was an independent city-state with an estimated population of 50,000–80,000 at its height. Back then it was a lot and what it’s even more surprising is that a rough estimate for Sumer’s population might be 0.8 million to 1.5 million. Consider that the world population has been estimated at about 27 million. Each city was centered on a temple dedicated to the particular patron god or goddess of the city and ruled over by a priestly governor (ensi) or by a king (lugal) who was intimately tied to the city’s religious rites.
Uruk-ur 3D city model - Sumerian Art
Uruk - Ur - 3D model

The economy was agricultural based and the cities used to trade, but what’s funny is that the first fully developed written script, called cuneiform, was not invented to record stories, poetry or prayers, but to account surplus commodities like crops, head of cattle or jars of oil.

Sumerian Art

So, like nowadays, economic necessities have been an engine to find solutions. But what about art? Well, like I said before, at the center of the city there was a temple. However, the temple was build at the top of ziggurats, impressive large layered platforms made of mudbrick, not fixed with mortar or cement.

Ziggurat of Ur - Sumerian Architecture
Ziggurat of Ur
Sumerians created a lot of beautiful artifacts with great details and ornamentations using semi-precious stones imported from other lands, such as lapis lazuli, alabaster, and serpentine combined with precious metals. Since stone was rare it was reserved for sculpture. The most widespread material in Sumer was clay, that’s why a lot of daily use objects were made with this material.
Bull's head ornament - Sumerian Art
Bull's head

As you can see the quality of the artifacts is awesome and in the next episodes we are going to discover some of them and their meaning. Enjoy the YouTube video and the contents on my social medias. Ciao!

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