Mesopotamia was the first civilization in human history to develop and use a form of writing, plant cereals, use mathematics, and create what we now call a city.
Although it is considered one of the world’s first civilizations, impacting and inspiring the development of human civilization, its achievements have been less known because it has not received the same level of attention as some other ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians. or the Romans.
The rich cultural heritage of Mesopotamia from the fourth millennium BCE to the sixth century BCE, which many Koreans could only access through textbooks, is now on display in the new Mesopotamian Gallery at the National Museum of Korea.
Aiming to showcase various cultural heritages, the National Museum of Korea in central Seoul operates the World Art Gallery on the third floor. It has opened two exhibitions so far, showcasing Egypt’s legacies from 2019 to last year and world ceramics in 2021.
From July 22 to January 28, 2024, a new exhibition titled “Mesopotamia: Great Cultural Innovations, Selections from the Metropolitan Museum of Art” was held. It was co-organized with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the United States, which has a world-class collection of Mesopotamian artifacts.
Nearly 70 artifacts are on display, which are “some of the most remarkable works of art made by the various people who for millennia inhabited the lands called Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq and adjacent regions,” Yelena said. Rakic, curator at the Department of Antiquity. Near Eastern Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who attended Thursday’s press opening at the National Museum of Korea. “These cultures and their innovations have indeed been formative and transformative, as the exhibition presents and explains so well.”
Rakic said the Met was able to loan the artifacts to the National Museum of Korea as the museum will undergo a “complete reimagining, both physical and narrative, of the galleries and the collection we manage” over the next few years. .
“During this period, very few works of art will be accessible to the public, so it is extremely gratifying that some of the best works are on display here in Seoul,” she added.
The exhibition is divided into three sections — Cultural Innovations, Art and Identity, and Art in the Age of Empires.
The ‘Cultural Innovations’ section looks at the rise of cities, religion and rituals as well as the invention of cuneiform (an ancient writing system) and seals.
“A series of fundamental developments that took place in southern Mesopotamia at the end of the fourth millennium BCE changed the way people related to each other – their environment and their knowledge itself,” said said Yang Hee-chung, curator of the exhibition. “The invention of the cuneiform writing system, which was quickly used for both economic and epistemological purposes, notably marked the beginning of history.”
The Uruk period (4200-3000 BCE), named for Uruk in southern Iraq, witnessed the spread of these developments across the wider Near East to modern-day Syria, southern Turkey and western Iran. The script was used to record details of business and commercial transactions, develop abstract concepts, and systematically organize knowledge of the surrounding world.
Cylindrical seals were also invented around the same time. The exhibit features 13 clay cuneiform tablets and 11 seals. The sophistication of the carvings on these clay cuneiform tablets can also be seen as the museum has stamped them on clay tablets to help visitors see them more vividly. There is also a kiosk offering interpretations and explanations of each tablet.
In the “Art and Identity” section, various works expressing individual identity are exhibited. A centerpiece of this section is the statue of Gudea, which dates back to 2090 BCE. It is a diorite sculpture of the Gudea, ensi, or ruler, of the city-state of Lagash. He commissioned this sculpture to commemorate his renovation of the temples of Lagash, as shown in the Sumerian inscription on his skirt.
However, Yang said he looked nothing like the sculpture.
“The sculpture is said to have been sculpted to resemble a ruler’s ideal,” Yang said. “That’s why there is an inscription engraved on the body revealing who it looks like, because no one could tell who it is by looking at the carving.”
Another eye-catcher is the bust of a different ruler, titled “Head of a ruler”.
It is a life-size representation of a man with an elegantly groomed beard, a well-trimmed mustache and a turban on his head.
“The innovative technology and expensive material of the copper casting indicate that it was likely commissioned by a ruler or someone of elite status,” Yang said. “The highly naturalized features suggest this may be a portrait of a specific individual, making this a rare example of a Mesopotamian portrait.”
The final section “Age of Empires” features artwork from the two major Mesopotamian empires – the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-612 BCE) and the Neo-Babylonian Empire (626-539 BCE) ). These two empires emerged in the second half of Mesopotamian civilization. The Neo-Assyrian Empire is known for its magnificent stone relief carvings that adorned the interiors of palaces, while the Neo-Babylonian Empire was famous for masonry. The famous prowling lions that lined the Processional Way to the Ishtar Gate can be seen in this section, although only two out of 120 lions have made it to Korea.
Admission to the exhibition is free.
BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [[email protected]]