ART FROM ANCIENT LANDS

 

 

 

 

 

Basalt Hittite Relief Depicting a King and His Retainers- LO.635
Origin: Anatolian Plateau
Circa: 800 BC to 600 BC
Dimensions: 15.5" (39.4cm) high x 22.5" (57.2cm) wide
Collection: Near Eastern
Style: Hittite
Medium: Basalt

Sculpted in basalt in very bold relief, the composition depicts a ruler standing in his chariot about to shoot an arrow from his bow. He is accompanied to the right by his charioteer, only the top of whose head is preserved, and on his left, by an image in reduced scale of his queen who holds a floral-like attribute in her upraised hand. The lanceolate-tipped element behind her head is a spear. One of the king’s retainers walks on the ground behind the chariot carrying a floral attribute in one hand and a vessel in the other; the field beneath his elbow is filled with smaller motifs which are difficult to interpret but may perhaps been part of an inscription.

Our relief represents the artistic expression of a thriving civilization about which the general public is virtually unaware. Briefly stated, the Hittites, an Indo-European peoples who established their empire in the Anatolian plateau and warred with the Egyptians during Dynasty XIX for supremacy of the ancient Near East at the end of the second millennium BC, were themselves eclipsed as a civilization by the chaotic realignment of the ancient world at the end of the Bronze Age. Their successors, in the early centuries of the Iron Age established a series of petty kingdoms which extended from what is now Eastern Turkey to the banks of the Euphrates River. Generally termed the Neo-Hittites, in order to distinguish them from the Hittites of the Bronze Age, these individuals held sway in those regions until they themselves were conquered in turn by the Assyrians.

As heirs of the kingdom of the Hittites and as contemporaries of the early Assyrians, it should come as no surprise that the artistic style of the Neo-Hittites should so resemble that of the both. The best corpus of such Neo-Hittite reliefs is to be found today in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. One of those reliefs is so close to ours in its style and subject matter as to suggest that both are contemporary. This relief was found at Carcamesh, one of the significant Neo-Hittite centers, and is provisionally dated to the 9th-8th century BC. It is likewise sculpted in basalt in bold relief and depicts a battle chariot. There one sees a king in his chariot about to draw his bow. The position of the fingers of the king and that fact that his bow string passes behind his head are identical. Moreover, the juxtaposition of the head of the king and his charioteer are congruent in both depictions and the same lanceolate-tipped lance rises up diagonally from behind the king in both. There can be no doubt, therefore, that our relief is contemporary in date with the one from Carcamesh and belongs to the same cultural horizon. Our relief is a bit more complex in its compositional design, incorporating as it does ancillary figures on a smaller scale, but such an intercalation of smaller figures among the more important, taller figures is also a characteristic of the style of these Neo-Hittite reliefs. Our fragment relief is, therefore, a masterpiece of one of the so-called Lost Civilizations of the Ancient Near East.

References:

For the Neo-Hittites in general, see, both, Pierre Amiet, Art of the Ancient Near East [translated by J. Shepley and C. Choquet] (New York 1980], pages 229-233, with figures 103 and 555 on page 399; and O. R. Gurney, The Hittites (Baltimore 1962), pages 39-46; for the rich collection of Neo-Hittite art in Ankara, see, both Í. Temízsoy, et al., The Anatolian Civilizations Museum (Ankara n.d.), pages 99-112, and in particular page 108, figure 157, for a color illustration of the parallel from Carcamesh of the king in his chariot; and R. Temizer, Museum of Anatolian Civilization (Ankara n.d.), pages 90-105, with figures 148-165, particularly figure 163, for the same relief.

 

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