Fertile Crescent
Iconography = the science of identification, description, classification, and interpretation of symbols, themes, and subject matter in the visual arts. The term can also refer to the artist's use of this imagery in a particular work.
It's eye before flea, except after sea

To understand the iconography of a work, viewers will ask questions such as:

  • What important things symbols are represented in this work?
  • What cultural meaning did the artist, patron, and first viewers of this work understand in relation to these symbols?
  • What is the significance of these symbols to understanding the meaning and message conveyed by this work of art?
How Art Made the World,
Episode 4: Once Upon a Time











Megalithic Monuments


French menhir
menhirs = simplest megalithic form, unpright slabs that served as grave markers
Kerloas Menhir, France, ca. 6500 BCE. Height 33 feet.











German dolmen
dolmens = tombs resembling "houses of the dead," the walls are upright stones and the roof is a single giant slab
Lancken-Granitz dolmen, Germany, neolithic period.











Welsh Cromlech
cromlechs = a circle of large upright stones, or Dolmens
Din Ligwy Cromlech, Anglessey, Wales, ca. 5000 BCE.












Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain (Wiltshire), England, ca. 2550 - 1600 BCE. Diameter of circle 97'.











Stonehenge aerial view
post-and-lintel = architectural system of construcion with two or more vertical elements (posts) supporting a horizontal element (lintel)
Stonehenge, cromlech, ca. 2550 - 1600 BCE.












Stonehenge (aerial view), Salisbury Plain (Wiltshire), England, ca. 2550 - 1600 BCE.











Original arrangement of stones and buildign phases at Stonehenge
Building phases of Stonenenge
  • First phase = henge, nearly continuous circle dug into chalk ground ca. 3500 to 2900 BCE
  • Second phase = silted ditch and avenue to the Avon River
    • Ditch = 3300 to 2140 BCE
    • Avenue = 2580 to 1890 BCE
  • Third phase = sarsen (sandstone) circle
  • Evenly spaced trilithons = 2850 to 2200 BCE
    • Each consisting of two posts and a lintel
    • Stone slabs dragged from Marlborough Downs, 20 miles away
  • Fourth phase = altar stone, later stones, outer pit rings 2030 to 1520 BCE
  • Stonehenge abandoned around 110 BCE, probably due to a growing preference for cremation over burial
Original arrangement of stones and building phases at Stonehenge











Consider that:
  • By the time Stonehenge was in its final building stage, the Great Pyramids were over 500 years old
  • Multi-chambered temples had been built in Mesopotamia for at least a millennium
Mesopotamia = Greek for "land between the rivers"
cities of the ancient Near East
early Mesopotamian city-states
Cities of the Ancient Near East 7000 - 3000 BCE
Early Mesopotamian City-States


6500 - 4100 BCE
Uruk (Warka)
4100 - 2900 BCE
3000 - 2300 BCE
Early Dynastic Period
2900 - 2334 BCE


2800 - 2600 BCE


c. 2340 - 2180 BCE
c. 2218 - 2047 BCE
c. 2150 - 1960 BCE
Lagash (Gudea)
3rd millenia BCE
c. 1792 - 1750 BCE
c. 1350 - 6112 BCE
538 - 330 BCE











c. 3500 - 2030 BCE


artist's rendition of the ancient city of Ur

Artist's rendition of ancient city or Ur











Babylonian deed of sale
Sumerians credited with:
  • Developing the first known system of writing
    • Civilizations of Mesopotamia shared common language
    • Wedge-shaped cuneiform writing system primarily used for record keeping
  • Producing significant body of literature
  • Invention of the plow, wheel, mathematics, and law
  • Establishing the first formal system of religion whereby traditional religious devices such as prayer, sacrifice, and the view that humans are imperfect and therefore dependent on the powers of higher beings were developed
Babylonian deed of sale, ca. 1750 BCE











geometry tablet from Ur

Geometry Tablet from Ur











inanna or Ishtar
theocratic socialism = a planned society administered from a central location (or temple)
Worshipped pantheon of nature gods
(more than 3,000 identified):
Anu - the sky god and head of pantheon
Ishtar - the queen of heaven and wife of Anu
Abu - god of vegetation
Enki - god of wisdom
Enlil - "lord of breath"
Indugud - storm god
Shamash - sun god
Inanna or Ishtar, Sumerian, Iraq,
ca. 2,000 BCE.











Ziggurat of Ur
Artist's rendion of Ziggurat of Ur
Nanna Ziggurat or Ziggurat of King Urnammu, Ur (El Muqeiyar), Iraq. ca. 2100 BCE.











artist's rendition of White Temple and ziggurat
The ziggurat was the nucleus of the Sumerian city-state
  • Bent axis approach (extending journey)
  • Symbolizing the sacred mountain
  • Bridge between heaven and earth
    • Sumerians referred to ziggurats as “waiting rooms,” where the priest waited for the god to commune
White Temple and ziggurat
White Temple and ziggurat, Uruk (modern day Warka), Iraq. ca. 3200 - 3000 BCE.











female head from Uruk

Female Head, from Uruk (Warka). ca. 3200 - 3000 BCE. Limestone, height 8".











statues from the Abu Temple

Statues from the Abu Temple, Tell Asmar, Iraq. ca. 2700 BCE.
Limestone, alabaster, and gypsum, height of tallest figure approx. 30".










Figural Characteristics of Mesopotamian Art:

  • Cylindrical form
  • Prominent eyes
  • Stylized arched eyebrows
  • Male forms wear belts and fringed skirts
    • Males generally wear beards and shoulder-length hair
  • Women generally wear robes with right shoulder bear
Statues from the Abu Temple, Tell Asmar, Iraq. ca. 2700 BCE. Limestone, alabaster, and gypsum, height of tallest figure approx. 30".