Ancient Mediterranean

Artistic traditions of the ancient Near East and dynastic Egypt focused on representing royal figures and divinities and on the function of funerary and palatial complexes within their cultural contexts. Works of art illustrate the active exchange of ideas and reception of artistic styles among the Mediterranean cultures and the subsequent influence on the classical world.

2-1a: The art of the ancient Near East (present-day Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Cyprus, from 3500 to 330 BCE) is associated with successive city-states and cultural powers: Sumerian, Akkadian, Neo-Sumerian and Babylonian, Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, and Persian. The art of dynastic Egypt (present-day Egypt and Sudan, from 3000 to 30 BCE) generally includes coverage of predynastic Egypt and Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. The Amarna period (New Kingdom) was also important because of its cultural reform and stylistic revolution.

2-1b: The study of artistic innovations and conventions developed in the ancient Near East and dynastic Egypt (facilitated by recorded information from the time) provides a foundation for comparative understanding of subsequent artistic traditions within the region and beyond.

Religion plays a significant role in the art and architecture of the ancient Near East, with cosmology guiding representation of deities and kings who themselves assume diving attributes.

2-2a: Artists created fully developed, formal types, including sculptures of human figures interacting with gods and stylistic conventions representing the human form with a combined profile and three-quarter view. In these combinations, important figures are set apart using a hierarchical scale or by dividing the compositions into horizontal sections or registers, which provide significant early examples of historical narratives.

2-2b: Architectural repetitions include towering ziggurats that provide monumental settings for the worship of many deities, as well as heavily fortified palaces that increased in opulence over the centuries, proclaiming the power and authority of rulers.

The art of dynastic Egypt embodies a sense of permanence. It was created for eternity in the service of a culture that focused on preserving a cycle of rebirth.

2-3a: The culture of dynastic Egypt represents an elaborate funerary sect whose devotees created numerous ka statues (to house the ka, or spirit, after death), artifacts, decorations, and furnishings for tombs. Egyptian art incorporates mythological and religious symbolism, often centered on the cult of the sun. Development of monumental stone architecture culminated with the pyramids and with innovative designs for rock-cut tombs and pylon (massive sloped gateway) temples, each demonstrating the importance of the pharaoh a god-king with absolute power, descended directly from the sun god. The Egyptian architectural construction of the clerestory is particularly important for the history of architecture.

2-3b: Representations of humans make clear distinctions between the deified pharaoh and people in lower classes, using representational and stylistic cues such as hierarchical proportion and idealization versus naturalism. Approaches to portraiture depend on a figure’s rank in society. The artistic canon of dynastic Egypt, with strict conventions of representation, use of materials, and treatment of forms was followed for many centuries with only short-lived periods of experimentation and deviation. Innovations in art and architecture tended to occur within the basic and established scheme.

The art of Ancient Greece and Rome is grounded in civic ideals and polytheism. Etruscan and Roman artists and architects accumulated and creatively adapted Greek objects and forms to create buildings and artworks that appealed to their tastes for eclecticism and historicism.

2-4a: Ancient Greek art was produced in Europe and western Asia, primarily in the region of present-day Greece, Turkey, and southern Italy, from 600 BCE to 100 CE. Etruscan art (c. 700-100 BCE, from the region of Etruria in central Italy) and ancient Roman art was produced in Europe and western Asia from c. 753 BCE to 337 CE. The arts of these early western artistic cultures are generally studied chronologically. Additionally, archaeological models and stylistic analysis have identified periods based on stylistic changes. Artworks are assigned to periods according to styles (e.g., archaic Greek) governments, or dynasties (e.g., Roman Republic).

2-4b: Art considered Ancient Greek includes works from the archaic, classical, and Hellenistic periods, as defined according to artistic style, not by political units such as governments or dynasties. Etruscan art is typically considered as a single cultural unit even though Etruria was composed of separate city-states. Roman art includes works from the republican, early imperial, late imperial and late antique periods, as defined using governmental structures and dynasties rather than stylistic characteristics. Many Hellenistic works are in fact Roman in origin, which favors presenting these traditions at the same time.

2-4c: Ancient Greek, Etruscan, and Roman artists and architects were influenced by earlier Mediterranean cultures. Ancient Greek religious and civic architecture and figural representation are characterized by idealized proportions and spatial relationships, expressing societal values of harmony and order. Art from the Etruscan and Roman periods is typified by stylistic and iconographical eclecticism and portraiture. Etruscan and ancient Roman art express republican and imperial values, power, and preference for conspicuous display. Etruscan and Roman architecture are characterized by investment in public structures. Roman architecture is also characterized by borrowing from its immediate predecessors (Greek and Etruscan) and by technical innovation.

2-4d: Ancient Greek and Roman art provides the foundation for the later development of European and Mediterranean artistic traditions. From the 18th century onward, European and American observers admired ancient Greek and Roman ethical and governmental systems, which contributed to prioritizing art and architecture that could be associated with political elites and cultural capitals (e.g., Rome). Most recently, art historians have examined art produced by contemporary subjects or ‘provincial’ populations.

Contextual information for ancient Greek and Roman art can be derived from contemporary literary, political, legal, and economic records as well as from archaeological excavations conducted from the mid-18th century onward. Etruscan art, by contrast, is illuminated primarily by archaeological record and by descriptions of contemporary external observers.

2-5a: Some of the earliest written statements about artists and art making survive from the ancient Greek and Roman worlds. Little survives of the rich Etruscan literary tradition that is documented in Roman sources.

2-5b: The Greek, Etruscan, and Roman cultures shared a rich tradition of epic storytelling (first orally transmitted, later written) that glorified the exploits of gods, goddesses, and heroes. The texts recorded a highly developed rhetorical tradition that prized public oratory and poetry. Religious rituals and prognostications were guided by oral tradition, not texts.

Ancient Mediterranean


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s