Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bas-Relief Sculpture

Krystal Palmer
HON 201- Concept Post
22 January 2013
Bas-Relief Sculpture
      Bas-relief sculpture is an art form that was started in Ancient Mesopotamia, but more commonly known from Classical Greece. Bas-relief is a French term that means, “low raised.” There are three main types of sculpture: bas-relief, high relief, and in the round. Bas-relief sculpture is very articulate work that is meant to be seen from one direction, unlike in the round sculpture that is meant to be seen from all angles. Bas-relief sculpture could be compared to a pop up book or art work done on a tile (Smart Art 1). Bas-relief sculpture was primarily used as a way to tell stories or record major events.
      We previously read about the people of Sumer in an Inanna poem. An interesting bas-relief work I came across during my research was the Warka Vase. The Warka Vase is an ancient urn carved of stone that features bas-relief. The urn is tall and made of stone. The materials and height of this urn show its importance. Most urns were made of ceramics and were short in stature. The urn depicts various levels of the Sumerian world, in other words, the Sumerian hierarchy (Wildeman 1).  Toward the bottom of the vase, are grains. Above that sheep, and then humans working in a field. At the very top of the vase is the goddess we all know as Inanna. Inanna is the largest figure on the vase. An important element of all art to remember is that the more important figures, especially in ancient times, are always displayed with the largest scales. Their power is bigger than everyone else, and that is reflected in their size. On this vase, there are horizontal lines that separate each level. The horizontal lines are called registers and divide the sections to highlight the hierarchy (Wildeman 2). One the bottom register we see the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  This image probably symbolizes the honor the people gave to the rivers for providing water and fertile soil to grow plants. The middle register shows a group of males carrying what looks to be fruit and grains. On the top register, Inanna is shown being offered a bowl of fruit by a male figure. The vase shows the sacrifice the people are willing to bestow upon their goddess. The offerings being depicted on the Warka Vase are most likely linked to the Sacred Marriage, which we read about in our first handout. The constant reference to Inanna displays the importance of her presence during this time. I think it is important to mention that the figures on the vase, not including Inanna were nude. Nudity, in Mesopotamian and other ancient art works is an interpretation of destitution or fragileness, however in the Warka Vase, the nude figures are displayed differently.  The nudity depicted on the Warka Vase leans more toward the idea of beauty of the human body, which leads us to the Greek depictions of the nude figure. The Warka Vase was discovered in Inanna’s temple located in Southern Iraq. It is what we would consider a narrative relief sculpture. The vase shows the sacrifice and assurance of fertility and abundance. The importance of the rituals presented on this vase, are verified by it’s narrative.
 <-- The Warka Vase
      Bas-relief sculpture was the beginning of a new art form. Bas-relief is an intricate, but somewhat simple art form that was used for many, many years to document important events and rituals for the ancient civilizations. Bas-relief sculpting, although still prevalent today, was the beginning of a new kind of sculpting era. Bas-relief sculpture opened doors for high relief sculpture, and eventually, in-the-round sculpture. The Greeks took many of the Mesopotamians art making ideas and used them to form their own. As we look at the evolution of the Mesopotamians and civilizations following them, one idea reigns true. Records, whether written, sculpted, or orally shared, are what connect us to the culture from thousands of years ago. From a scholarly point of view, bas-relief sculpture is extremely important. It is a window to the past and connection to the present. Bas-relief sculpture is a part of history and without it, we would not know as much about who came before us or of the trials they faced.

Works Cited
Albenda, Pauline. "Ashurnasipal II Lion Hunt Relief." Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 31, No. 3. The University of Chicago, July 1972. Web. 23 Jan. 2013.

Ancient Relief Sculpture Mesopitamia and Egypt," The Minneapolis Institute of Arts         Bulletin9i 9 42, no. 12 (March, 1953): 56-57.

Atac, Mehmet-Ali. "Visual Forumla and Meaning in Neo-Assyrian Relief     Sculpture." The Art Bulletin 88.1 (2006): 69-101. JSTOR. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.             <>.

Moorey, P. R. S. Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and Industries: The Archaeological       Evidence. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994. Print.

"Relief: king and eunuch attendant.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York:       The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2006. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.   <>

"Smart Art." Smart Art. Walter's Art Museum, 30 Aug. 2010. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.

Wildeman, Brian. "Art History Lab." Brian Wildeman's Ancient Mesopotamia. University of Chicago, 9 May 2012. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.

1 comment:

  1. Krystal, I really enjoyed reading your blog. I had no idea what bas-relief meant and feel like I learned a lot. I like how, when talking about nudity, you gave a little background information about how the nudity was portrayed at the time the art was made. I also liked that you found a piece that had to do with the people of Sumer and Inanna. That really helped me connect to the art because the story of Sumer has already been studied. Great job!