In many respects the civilization along the Tigris - Euphrates was like that along the Nile. Both valleys were settled by primitive peoples, who grew rapidly by virtue - of favorable climate and soil, and eventually developed into great nations headed by kings absolute in power. The king was the state in Egypt, and in Assyria the monarch was even more dominant and absolute. For the Pharaohs shared architecture, painting, and sculpture with the gods ; but the Sargonids seem to have arrogated the most of these things to themselves alone.
Religion was perhaps as real in Assyria as in Egypt, but it was less apparent in art. Certain genii, called gods or demons, appear in the bas-reliefs, but it is not yet settled whether they represent gods or merely legendary heroes or monsters of fable. There was no great demonstration of religion by form and color, as in Egypt. The Assyrians were Semites, and religion with them was more a matter of the spirit than the senses—an image in the mind rather than an image in metal or stone. The temple was not eloquent with the actions and deeds of the gods, and even the tomb, that fruitful source of art in Egypt, was in Chaldaea undecorated and in Assyria unknown. No one knows what the Assyrians did with their dead, unless they carried them back to the fatherland of the race, the Persian Gulf region, as the native tribes of Mesopotamia do to this day.
ART MOTIVES: As in Egypt, there were two motives for art—illustration and decoration. Religion, as we have seen, hardly obtained at all. The king attracted the greatest attention. The countless bas-reliefs, cut on soft stone slabs, were pages from the history of the monarch in peace and war, in council, in the chase, or in processional rites. Beside him and around him his officers came in for a share of the background glory. Occasionally the common people had representations of their lives and their pursuits, but the main subject of all the valley art was the king and his doings. Sculpture and painting were largely illustrations accompanying a history written in the ever-present cuneiform characters.
But, while serving as history, like the picture-writings of the Egyptians, this illustration was likewise decoration, and was designed with that end in view. Rows upon rows of
partly colored bas-reliefs were arranged like a dado along the palace-wall, and above them wall-paintings, or glazed tiles in patterns, carried out the color scheme. Almost all of the color has now disappeared, but it must have been brilliant at one time, and was doubtless in harmony with the architecture. Both painting and sculpture were subordinate to and dependent upon architecture. Palace-building
was the chief pursuit, and the other arts were called in mainly as adjuncts—ornamental records of the king who built.
THE TYPE, FORM, COLOR: There were only two distinct faces in Assyrian art—one with and one without a beard. Neither of them was a portrait except as attributes or inscriptions designated. The type was unendingly repeated. Women appeared in only one or two isolated cases, and even these are doubtful. The warrior, a strong, coarse-membered, heavily muscled creation, with a heavy, expressionless, Semitic face, appeared everywhere. The figure was placed in profile, with eye and bust twisted to show the front view, and the long feet projected one beyond the other, as in the Nile pictures. This was the Assyrian ideal of strength, dignity, and majesty, established probably in the early ages, and repeated for centuries with few characteristic variations. The figure was usually given in motion, walking, or riding, and had little of that grace seen in Egyptian painting, but in its place a great deal of rude strength. In modelling, the human form was not so knowingly rendered as the animal. The long Eastern clothing probably prevented the close study of the figure. This failure in anatomical exactness was balanced in part by minute details in the dress and accessories, productive of a rich ornamental effect.