Bronze Band X of Balawat gates by Shalmaneser III showing the stele of the Assyrian king by the sources of river Tigris (after Schachner 2007, pl. 50b).
2013 When Ritual Meets Art. Rituals in the Visual Arts versus the Visual Arts in Rituals: The Case of Ancient Mesopotamia, in C. Ambos and L. Verderame (eds.), Approaching Rituals in Ancient Cultures. Proceedings of the Conference, November 28-30, 2011, Roma (Supplemento n. 2 alla Rivista degli Studi Orientali Nuova Seria), Rome, pp. 209-226. RIVISTA DEGLI STUDI ORIENTALI LXXXVI
Representations of rituals and rituals in context
Contexts in source publication
... presence. To a certain extent, if pictures want something, one could say they want humans.15 Indeed, they are so otiose that the statue of Gudea needs to be carved with the agentive order of the king, his direct speech re- minding the statue to speak to the god. Ancient Mesopotamians wanted statues and pictures that were living bodies acting in the world to decode propositions about the reality in which they were living. Within this system of interrelations with the world, pictorial images have a fundamental role acting as the main protagonists; they are present in the world, and the world pays great attention to them. Pictorial images require constant attention, even those pictures that are not immediately noted (since they cannot be easily seen), and those that are impossible to see (since they are placed in very distant places or are buried in tombs). According to this, pictorial images are not only otiose, but they can also be defined as egoistic, thereby centralising and catalysing the eye and the mind of the viewer.16 Once they are born, they live their own life and it seems that they do not care about the world and people around them. Thus, while they do not care, they are indeed made to take care about the world. Therefore, rituals have the power to direct the role of pictures and effigies, changing their status (bringing them to life or, on the con- trary, to death), establishing their function and programming their agentive intention and proposition. However, how were those pictorial images perceived and broadcast in the rituals of everyday life? Some of the statues of gods and kings were enclosed in temples, and they were not of course visible to everyone on all occasions. Indeed, one could assume that the statues were not made in order to be visible if one also thinks of the rock reliefs carved high up in the mountains, at the sources of rivers in distant and remote places where the carved relief is supposed to interact with the surrounding nature as part of the nature itself, and as an artificial subject that marks the space and the place (landscape). In this context, the pictures of the king (and not only the royal effigies) function as totems of the place, defining and marking the space. The totemic value of these kinds of pictures is so important that the moment of the production and sculpture of the effigies is visually registered and monumentalised in other visual works.17 Taking an example from the Assyrian visual collection, the placing of the image of the king at the source of the river Tigris (Fig. 3) marks the place responsible for a religious, social, political and geographical relationship with the viewers (in very rare instances),18 the divine world and the ...
... were thus alive, even if they were not displayed on public occasions. There are particular artefacts that reproduce pictures on a more wide- spread basis, on items that were used in the everyday life, that is, pictures are reproduced referring to the important monuments.20 In this process of re- producibility with the creation of metapictures ,21 one might wonder whether some type of suitable ritual was performed to transfer the same value and nature of the main picture to its duplicate copy, or being the copy of the main monument automatically implied the enactment of the ritual, which made the original live. In other words, do the copies of an original picture have the same power? I believe that people thought they had the same power, and indeed they carried those pictures simply because they wanted to exercise that power. The perception and manipulation of what could be defined as votive pictures (amulets?) probably caused different levels and types of reactions according to social status, emotional attitudes and personal circumstances. As a consequence of the crossed-image pattern of reference, which picture can be defined as a metapicture ? Which picture is in fact a picture of another picture? Taking into consideration the representation on the stele of the Assyrian king as depicted on the bronze bands of Shalmaneser III or on wall- panel reliefs of Sargon II in front of the city walls, which picture comes first?22 Bas-reliefs and the band of the Balawat gates copy a stele that was previously fashioned, placed and consecrated. Indeed, the bronze relief by Shalmaneser III could be an example of not only a metapicture of the picture itself, but also a metapicture of the ritual (or meta-ritual ), which occurred when the stele was fashioned directly on the spot at the source of the river Tigris (Fig. 3) or by the sea (Fig. 4).23 The bronze decoration of the Balawat gates by Shalmaneser III reproduces the moment of the sacralisation of the image of ...
It is a tragic irony that one of the most troubled areas of the world is also the cradle of Western civilization: the Middle East. Despite its turbulent present, there are scholars who know that there is much to learn about the region and its cultures by studying its exalted past. One of those scholars is Allison Thomason, a professor in the depart...