Persian Painting 1

The Medes and Persians were the natural inheritors of Assyrian civilization, but they did not improve their birthright. The Medes soon lost their power. Cyrus conquered them, and established the powerful Persian monarchy upheld for two hundred years by Cambyses, Darius, and Xerxes. Substantially the same conditions surrounded the Persians as the Assyrians—that is, so far as art production was concerned. Their conceptions of life were similar, and their use of art was for historic illus tration of kingly doings and ornamental embellishment of kingly palaces. Both sculpture and painting were accessories of architecture.
Of Median art nothing remains. The Persians left the record, but it was not wholly of their own invention, nor was it very extensive or brilliant. It had little originality about it, and was really only an echo of Assyria. The
sculptors and painters copied their Assyrian predecessors, repeating at Persepolis what had been better told at Nineveh.
TYPES AND TECHNIC: The same subjects, types, and technical methods in bas-relief, tile, and painting on plaster were followed under Darius as under Shalmanezer. But the imitation was not so good as the original. The warrior, the

LIONS FRIEZE, SUSA. (FROM PERROT AND CHIPIEZ.)

winged monsters, the animals all lost something of their air of brutal defiance and their strength of modelling. Heroes still walked in procession along the bas-reliefs and glazed tiles, but the figure was smaller, more effeminate, the hair and beard were not so long, the drapery fell in slightly indicated folds at times, and there was a profusion of ornamental detail. Some of this detail and some modifications in the figure showed the influence of foreign nations other than the Greek ; but, in the main, Persian art followed in the footsteps of Assyrian art. It was the last reflection of Mesopotamian splendor. For with the conquest of Persia by Alexander the book of expressive art in that valley was closed, and, under Islam, it remains closed to this day.
ART REMAINS: Persian painting is something about which little is known because little remains. The Louvre contains some reconstructed friezes made in mosaics of stamped brick and square tile, showing figures of lions and a number of archers. The coloring is particularly rich, and may give some idea of Persian pigments. Aside from the chief museums of Europe the bulk of Persian art is still seen half-buried in the ruins of Persepolis and elsewhere.

THE TRADING NATIONS: The coast-lying nations of the Eastern Mediterranean were hardly original or creative nations in a large sense. They were at different times the conquered dependencies of Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Greece, and their lands were but bridges over which armies passed from east to west or from west to east. Located on the Mediterrancan between the great civilizations of antiquity they naturally adapted themselves to circumstances, and became the middlemen, the brokers, traders, and carriers of the ancient world. Their lands were not favorable to agriculture, but their sea-coasts rendered commerce easy and lucrative. They made a kingdom of the sea, and their means of livelihood were gathered from it. There is no record that the Egyptians ever traversed the Mediterranean, the Assyrians were not sailors, the Greeks had not yet arisen, and so probably Phoenicia and her neighbors had matters their own way. Colonies and trading stations were established at Cyprus, Carthage, Sardinia, the Greek islands, and the Greek mainland, and not only Eastern goods but Eastern ideas were thus carried to the West.
Politically, socially, and religiously these small middle nations were inconsequential. They simply adapted their politics or faith to the nation that for the time had them under its heel. What semi-original religion they possessed was an amalgamation of the religions of other nations, and their gods of bronze, terra-cotta, and enamel were irreverently sold in the market like any other produce.
ART MOTIVES AND METHODS: Building, carving, and paint ing were practised among the coastwise nations, but upon no such extensive scale as in either Egypt or Assyria. The mere fact that they were people of the sea rather than of the land precluded extensive or concentrated development.
Politically Phoenicia was divided among five cities, and her artistic strength was distributed in a similar manner.
Such art as was produced showed the religious and decorative motives, and in its spiritless materialistic make-up, the commercial motive. It was at the best a hybrid, mongrel art, borrowed from many sources and distributed to many points of the compass. At one time it had a strong Assyrian cast, at another an Egyptian cast, and after Greece arose it accepted a retroactive influence from there.
<< Previous page -- Next page >>