Hard stone was not found in the Mesopotamian regions. Temples were built of burnt brick, bas-reliefs were made upon alabaster slabs and heightened by coloring, and painting was largely upon tiles, with mineral paints, afterward glazed by fire. These glazed brick or tiles, with figured designs, were fixed upon the walls, arches, and archivolts by bitumen mortar, and made up the first mosaics of which we have record. There was a further painting upon plaster in distemper, of which some few traces remain. It did not differ in design from the bas-reliefs or the tile mosaics.
The subjects used were the Assyrian type, shown somewhat slighter in painting than in sculpture, animals, birds, and other objects ; but they were obviously not attempts at nature. The color was arbitrary, not natural, and there was little perspective, light-and-shade, or relief. Heavy outline bands of color appeared about the object, and the prevailing hues were yellow and blue. There was perhaps less symbolism and more direct representation in Assyria than in Egypt. There was also more feeling for perspective and space, as shown in such objects as water and in
the mountain landscapes of the late bas-reliefs ; but, in the main, there was no advance upon Egypt. There was a difference which was not necessarily a development. Painting, as we know the art to-day, was not practised in Chaldaea Assyria. It was never free from a servitude to architecture and sculpture ; it was hampered by conventionalities ; and the painter was more artisan than artist, having little freedom or individuality.
HISTORIC PERIODS: Chaldaea, of unknown antiquity, with Babylon its capital, is accounted the oldest nation in the Tigris-Euphrates valley, and, so far as is known, it was an original nation producing an original art. Its sculpture (especially in the Tello heads), and presumably its painting, were more realistic and individual than any other in the valley. Assyria coming later, and the heir of Chaldaea, was the
Second Empire : There are two distinct periods of this Second Empire, the first lasting from 1,400 B.C., down to about 900 B.C., and in art showing a great profusion of bas-reliefs. The second closed about 625 B. c., and in art
produced much glazed-tile work and a more elaborate sculpture and painting. After this the Chaldaean provinces gained the ascendency again, and Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar, became the first city of Asia. But the new Babylon did not last long. It fell before Cyrus and the Persians 536 B.C. Again, as in Egypt, the earliest art appears the purest and the simplest, and the years of Chaldaeo-Assyrian history known to us carry a record of change rather than of progress in art.