Uruk Vase Reveals Order of the Cradle of Civilization


What is known as the Urban Revolution started in Mesopotamia about five thousand years ago. People started to move to cities because of the area’s abundant resources. Their basic needs met, the inhabitants of the place could allow their talents to flourish. Writing was invented by the Sumerians. In this place, known as the fertile crescent, the first stone tablets with writing that have been found record real estate transactions.

Map of Ancient Mesopotamia showing location of Assyria, Babylonia and Sumer.
The Cradle of Civilization

In the desert world of Mesopotamia, complex systems of trade existed between what is now Pakistan, Iran and Iraq. They had to be able to track ownership of goods, so writing was invented. This influences the Art of the period. Mesopotamia was located in the rich soil between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now Syria, Iraq and Jordan.

The Uruk Revolution

Art historians call that time the Uruk Revolution. They call it a revolution because it was the first time that people lived together in urban cities. The Uruk Vase was created about 5,000 years ago in the largest city of its time, a place known as Arak in the Bible but Uruk in other places. Gilgamesh of legend built the city walls.

Symbols on the Vase

At a little over a meter high, the vase is sculpted out of alabaster, a precious stone of the time. Because alabaster was so hard to find, it is commonly thought that the vase served a ceremonial purpose. The story that it tells in its carved exterior reveals the spiritual beliefs of the people who made it and much about the social structure of its makers.

The vase displays a hierarchical view of the world. The carvings that are arranged in levels around the circumference of the vase display that hierarchy. First, the lower of its multiple sections has water which is the basis of life, then plants, and male and female sheep. Scholars believe that these were placed on the vase to symbolize what the greatest concerns were for the people of that community: their harvests and their livestock.

The water is the source of all life and for an agrarian community like that of Uruk, its importance had to have been deeply felt. So, on the vase, the base on which all else stands is a depiction of water. Above that are all the plants that the people’s livestock ate. Then, there is a row of sheep. The next level has a series of people and the top level has a carving of the Goddess Innana. She was the fertility Goddess of Sumeria.

Bas relief stone sculpture of Ancient Sumerian Goddess of Fertility, Innana. Goddess is depicted naked holding metal objects in her hands and a headdress on her head.
Goddess Innana

Another important facet about the symbolism located on the vase is found on the top level. Located in the top section of the vase, there is a King and the Goddess Innana celebrating a marriage ceremony. The Kings exerted control over the people of Uruk by tying their rule to the Goddess. They claimed that because they were married to the Goddess, they were of divine nature and deserved their status in society. Also, by tying the land to the King’s health, he could say that if he was not well cared for, the land would suffer thereby keeping himself well maintained through fear.

Finally, the Uruk Vase shows an orderly arrangement of the world. It represents an age in which there was a definite line between truth and fiction. Later, doubts and skepticism about the nature of reality came into the human culture, but at that time, there was an order to life that the Uruk Vase depicted.

One of the sources for this post is this video by Diana McDonald. Video

Art of the Ancients: Sacrifice and Power

Primary Function

The art of Ancient Egypt, China and Central America was utilized by the people to legitimize and preserve power in the earthly and heavenly authority.

The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt were held as divine and their bodies were mummified to preserve them. Their religious beliefs had complex ideas about how a person’s soul would travel after the earthly body had died.

This sarcophagus held the Pharaoh’s corporeal remains.

Considerable time, expense and skill was used to create the tombs of Pharaohs and their households. This was all to ensure that the Pharaoh was kept secure for his travel to the Afterlife. Hieroglyphs along the sarcophagus were not decorative, but served to communicate the status and name of the dead as well as hex anyone disturbing the remains.

Common people were simply enshrouded and buried in the desert. Ancient Egyptian Art thus served to communicate to others the power of the noble class.

Art that has been preserved in China also supports the powerful rulers of each dynasty.

This painting of a powerful ruler shows Chinese Artistic focus on the powerful.

The people of Ancient China believed that their ancestors remained with them and influenced their lives. The life of each individual was largely dictated by his social class. Ironically, the founder of the Ming Dynasty had once been a farmer.

So the art reflected the society’s preoccupation with powerful people. The picture above is of Honawu who ruled as Emperor during the Ming Dynasty. The artists were forced to make works that portrayed the emperors favorably.

To be fair, the time brought great stability and peace to the country and there was also development in landscape painting, pottery and calligraphy.

In a sense it mirrored the development of art in Europe where the arts were sponsored by wealthy patrons, people in power or rich merchants.

Gary Alan Ruse

In Central America and South America, power was held by religious leaders and the art showed that.

Aztec priests performed human sacrifice to honor the Gods.

It is difficult to grasp how advanced societies like those of the Aztecs could be so brutal. Their art is not all about sacrifice which shows the powerful reliance of the people on religion. They have many stone sculptures of humanoid beings with birdlike appendages and features.

Like the art of the people of Ancient China and that of Ancient Egypt, the art of the West remains to share with us what was important then.

Next week, we will continue learning about the Art of the Ancients. This time it will thread on art used to keep track of time and space.

Art of Ancient Civilizations

Renaissance Art was commissioned by wealthy patrons. Art was a way of preserving the image of people with status. Sometimes, the status came from political connection or religious power.

Ancient Art was functional. It had a purpose. Whether it was a Java Buddha, a Peruvian mummy bundle, an Egyptian tomb painting or a Buddhist temple, each culture utilized art for societal purposes.

Gary had this to say about why he is interested in the Art of Ancient Civilizations:

The art from different cultures was similar in some ways, but each culture had its own style. Most of the art, except for sculptures, treated subjects like rulers and battles, gods and goddesses. They all use art to record history.

Gary Alan Ruse

Helen had this to say about her fascination with the Art of Ancient Civilizations.

Examining the art from ancient civilizations always makes me think of how they built it to last. The fact that these artworks have survived is incredible to see. The themes in the art of all the different cultures interconnect which is also incredible.

Helen Lemus

Who, when and where?

It’s helpful at this point to limit the areas and cultures that we will be examining in this post. Ancient civilizations like those of the Greeks, Aztecs, Egyptians, Incas, and Buddhists all our featured in this post.

These cultures lived long ago and their artwork survives from areas in Africa, Central and South America, Asia and parts of the Mediterranean. Although it is a long period of time, the art of ancient civilizations began with the cave paintings in France about 35,000 years ago up until 500 years ago when new movements took over the artistic pursuits of civilization..

Practical functions of ancient art

Ancient Art was utilized to communicate religious ideas. These artworks were of a large size and intentionally so. To communicate their devotion to deity, the structures had to be large, such as the ancient temples of Sumeria, Central and Southern America, Asia, and Egypt.

This is a statue of Buddha in Java or what is now part of Indonesia. It was made in the 9th Century.

Religion played a large part in the lives of ancient people as they always wanted to placate and honor the Gods. So, temples were built to allow men to ascend to the skies where they could talk to them.

This is the Ziggurat at Ur. This is located in modern day Iraq. Iraq was Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, and the Ziggurat was erected to give the people a place to gather and to worship the moon deity, Nanna.

There are more works to explore in the vast collection that has survived the span of centuries. We will look at more next week.

Coral Gables Amazing Sculpture: “Pause”

Copyright 2022 Helen Lemus

Rafael Barrios

Mr. Barrios studied art in Canada, Venezuela and the United States. This sculpture was placed in Coral Gables in 2019. Originally, this work was displayed at the Coral Gables Museum with over 20 other pieces when this work arrived in the Gables. The exhibition was called Ontological Curiosity. There words were said about it in Coral Gables’ website.

Pause is a large-scale luminescent steel sculpture appearing as a stacked series of three-dimensional rectangles that mysteriously defy gravity and disappear as one passes by. Barrios plays with shapes and altering the laws of geometry, as seen in similar sculptures in the exhibition Ontological Curiosity. Artworks in the exhibition include small and large-scale sculptures, hanging kinetic works, mobiles, carpets, and works that play with light and shadow.

City’s Arts and Culture Specialist, Catherine Cathers.

Pause received recognition from Art Basel prior to being placed in its current location in front of Gables City Hall.

It made me think of rectangular blocks falling and just stopping in mid-air suddenly. As you walk around the sculpture, the blocks seem to recede and then pop back out as you make progress around the sculpture. At different times of the day, the sculpture shifts, too, relative to the position of the sun in the sky.

Looking at this work always inspires me to think about sculpture in a different way because it really does seem to move and shift, but simultaneously gives the illusion of stasis. Most interesting. Pause is located on the corner of LeJeune Road and Miracle Mile.

Description of Photograph of “Pause”

In these two shots, I decided to refrain from using anything but natural light. I tried to shoot in the afternoon with no special settings on my camera.

The shot on the left has a sunburst because the sunlight just bounced off of the side of the sculpture. I thought that it looked kind of neat.

Artist Bio

Picture of a white man with glasses wearing a brown jacket and print tie.  This is the artist, Rafael Barrios.
The Sculptor, Rafael Barrios

Rafael Barrios was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana of Venezuelan ancestry. He studied in Caracas, Venezuela. As a very young person, he received a “youth prize” for art. Then, he traveled to Ontario, Canada because he received a scholarship. Finally, he was awarded a scholarship to study art at New York University’s Graduate Program for Fine Arts.