1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Assyrian Architecture: Ornamental Pavements. Sculptured Slabs. Sculptures. Enameled Bricks, Glazed Tiles.

(Part 30)

Assyrian Architecture

Ornamental Pavements. Sculptured Slabs. Sculptures. Enameled Bricks, Glazed Tiles.

The most interesting parts of the Assyrian edifices are the finishing. The pavements were sometimes of sun-dried bricks, at other times of baked bricks, or of alabaster slabs laid in bitumen. At Khorsabad there was one in a single block 13 feet square, and 3 ft. 11 in. thick, and at the Nimroud temple there were two slabs, one 19 ft. 6 in. by 12 feet, and the other 21 feet by 16 feet, and 1 ft. 1 in. thick, both sides covered with inscriptions. Of ornamental pavements there are admirable examples from Kouyunjik at the British Museum, and from Khorsabad at the Louvre, both covered with delicate carving in alabaster of nearly the same pattern. It is difficult to conceive how such delicate work could have been used as paying, and still retain its beautiful sharpness, for it was not filled to protect the pattern. Directly above the pavement came the sculptured slabs, which are so numerous that at Kouyunjik alone there are some 2 miles in length of them. they are generally about 10 feet high from the ground, and are carved in alabaster. Many of them show traces of having been decorated with colours. Connected with these sculptures were the great winged animals which stand one on each side of the portals of the palaces. Some of the grandest have the body and legs of a bull, with an enormous pair of wings projecting from the shoulders, high over their backs, and covering the breast. They have human heads, bull’s ears with large ear-rings, and hours, winding from the brows upwards, and encircling a coronet of leaves, bound by a fillet of roses. They stood in pairs on each side of the palace doorways, and it is thought by some that generally there were no door or lintels, all being open to the roof and enclosed with curtains. But doors were sometimes used, as the places or recesses for the bolts, hinges, pins, or sockets have been found; and Mr. Smith has discovered a doorway with its actual lintel, now in the British Museum.

Above the sculptured slabs decorations have been found of various kinds. The most lasting seem to have been of baked bricks richly coloured and glazed. At the city gate of Khorsabad blue glazed tiles with yellow reliefs have been found. Victor Place found also that the lower part of the walls near the gate were aced with coloured enamelled bricks, having human figures, lions, &c., within an ornamental border. The arch over the gateway was also richly decorated with glazed tiles. Large remains f coloured decorations in plaster have also been found at Nimroud, &c., They were of figures outlined in black on a blue ground, and below the outer coat of plaster more extensive decorations have been found on an earlier coat. They were of various colours on a pale yellow ground. In other cases they had merely a black outline and were uncoloured. Now the difference of age between the several structures is some centuries, and it is curious to find that the earliest art works, viz, those in the N.W. palace, are the best in point of variety of detail and ornament, in severity of style and purity of outline. The later have extreme delicacy and minuteness, truth to nature and vigour of treatment, particularly in the animals, but they want, in the opinion of Mr. Layard, the vigour of the old decorations. Of external decorations we have a striking account in the inscription relating to the Bis Nimroud, in which the several stages are described as being coloured as follows:-- the lowest, black; the others in succession, orange, red, yellow, green, and blue. This vivid colouring may be explained by a discovery made by Mr. Loftus at Warrak of a wall which was richly decorated in geometrical patterns by means of small earthenware cones, the wide ends outwards and enamelled in different colours; also by Victor Place’s discovery at Khorsabad of four stages of a temple coloured in succession white, black, red, and blue.

In the Assyrian and Chaldean buildings little use was made of marble, granite, or stone, the greater part of the edifices being built with bricks, -- the lower parts with burnt bricks pout together with bitumen, and the rest with crude bricks and slime. Sometimes the walls were faced with burn bricks. One wall has been found with 10 feet in thickness of burnt brick facing, and 28 feet of crude bricking.

In Assyrian art generally there is little analogy to that of Egypt. There is some slight resemblances in the mouldings and in a few of the ornaments, but in Assyria there are no forests of columns, no grand pylons, no enormous cloistered court, and nothing to equal the gigantic pyramids or tombs of Egypt. The sphinx is superseded by the winged bull, and the slightly cut intaglio by the magnificently sculptured slab. In these early Assyrian structures there is art at a high stage of perfection, but we have no means of discovering the steps of which it was attained.

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