Monday, September 14, 2020

The Art of the Ancient Near East


Fertile Crescent

Copper Age     5000 BCE - 3000 BCE
Bronze Age     3000 BCE - 1400 BCE
Iron Age     1400 BCE - 1 CE

For all the videos in order with a textbook and study guides please visit:

Plaster Skulls
7000 BCE
Form:  The skulls of people were separated from their bodies and covered over with plaster.  They were sculpted to look like a  person before he or she had died.  The eyes were then inlayed with shells and hair was painted onto the head and sometimes face in the case of a man having a mustache.Iconography:  They may have been icons of ancestors and used as fetish objects.  They may also be an icon of the people of Jericho's belief in an afterlife.  They were an icon of wisdom because they were consulted on serious matters.
Context:  These heads mark the beginning of larger sculpture in the Near East.  They were found under the floors of the houses in Jericho and were supposedly looked to for values and wisdom.

Catal Huyuk
6,500 BCE - 5,700 BCE
Anatolia, Turkey
Form:  This city has no streets.  The buildings are all attached and the entrances to the rooms were on the ceiling.  The houses were made of timber frames and mud brick, the insides were plastered.  There were platforms along the walls and shrines in many of the houses.  In these shrines were bulls horns, plastered breasts, wall paintings and animal heads.Iconography:  The plaster breasts found in the shrines are symbols of fertility and the bulls horns also found in the shrines are symbols of virility.  The style that the city was built in is iconographic of the need of the people for protection.  The shrines and dead people are an icon of the heavy influence of religion and possible ancestor worship.
Context:  Catal Huyuk's wealth was in the trade of obsidian which was a stone that was very useful in the making of weapons because it could easily be made into a sharp point.  The buildings being attached, with no doors or windows, formed a very protective outer wall that allowed the people to better protect themselves.  The ceiling entrance also provided the rooms with chimneys that allowed the smoke from the fire to escape.  The houses were all of similar construction even though there sizes vary.  The platforms in the houses were used to perform the days activities and to sleep upon at night.  Dead people were buried beneath the floors and shrines were in one out of three houses.

Cuneiform Writing
Process:  Developed around 3100 BCE, it was original an accounting system.  They started as pictographs, simple pictures, that were carved into damp clay.  Between 2900 BCE and 2400 BCE they developed into phonograms, representations of syllable sounds.  At the same time scribes, the people who wrote the text, began using a stylus, pictured on the bottom left.  This instrument is pushed into damp clay rapidly to form the characters in the diagram.  The illustration on the top left shows the development of the language from pictographs to later cuneiform signs.  Not many people were literate during this time.

Early Cuneiform Tablet (left)
Later Cuneiform Tablet (right)
both approximately 3"x5"
- made of clay.

Stele of Hammurabi
1780 BCE
Susa, Iran
Form:  The Stele depicts Hammurabi on the right and the sun god, Shamash on the left.  Shamash is handing the measuring rod to Hammurabi.  It is made of black basalt and has a picture on the top and writing on the bottom.  The figures are in composite view.  In a composite view, the face, feet and arms are in profile but the torso is depicted in the frontal view.  Sometimes the eyes are a frontal view although the face is in profile. Iconography:  The three steps upon which the god rests his feet are iconographic of this meeting taking place on a mountain top.  The larger seated figure is the god Shamash.  (The use of size to indicate importance is referred to by Stokstad as hieratic scale.)  Both Shamash’s size and the flames surrounding his represent his larger than life divine status.  The flames surrounding his head are icons of his role as god of light or enlightenment and they symbolize power and ideas in much the same way our comic books represent figures with a lighbulb above their heads to represent a good idea.  This meeting is symbolic of Hammurabi’s divine right to rule and pass judgment.  Shamash hands over a staff of rule or rod.  This represents Hammurabi’s divine right to act as Shamash’s earthly representative.
Context:  This is a stele that was used to ensure even treatment of people throughout the kingdom.  The punishments were set in stone so that there could be no confusion as to how to deal with a situation.  The punishment varied depending upon race, wealthy, and class.  It was one of the first documents that we have that described a legal system.

Ziggurat of King Ur-Nammu 2100 BCE
mud brick with facing of red fired clay, each level 25' to 50'
Ur, Iraq
SumerianForm:  Overall the temple is built in two levels entirely of mud brick: in the lower level the bricks are joined together with bitumen, in the top level they are joined with mortar.
According to the Brittanica, "The ziggurat was always built with a core of mud brick and an exterior covered with baked brick. It had no internal chambers and was usually square or rectangular, averaging either 170 feet square or 125  170 feet (40  50 metres) at the base. Approximately 25 ziggurats are known, being equally divided in number among Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria."  The walls angle slightly outward and there are three staircases of one hundred steps each.
Iconography:  Ziggurats symbolize a connection between the heavens and the earth.  The monumental size and shape suggest that ziggurats are a type of man-made mountain.  In many cultures, religious leaders and figures often ascend mountains as a means to connect with a god or goddess.  In the ancient Greek faith there was Mount Olympus where the gods lived and in the Judeo Christian faith, Moses was given the tablets of the law on Mount Sinai.  Monuments of such a massive size most probably represent the power of the secular and religious rulers who commissioned them but in a more general sense they are also evidence of the organized cohesive nature of Mesopotamian civilization.
Context:  The temple was dedicated to the moon god Nanna and possibly used to communicate with him.  There used to be a temple at the very top of the ziggurat.  People would wait in the temple for the god to communicate with them.  The structure was used to intimidate enemies as well.  The shape of the ziggurat may have arisen from the building on top of older buildings until it found this height but this ziggurat did not find it's shape that way.  The walls were slanted probably to prevent rain water from ruining the brick work.
According to the Britannica,
No ziggurat is preserved to its original height. Ascent was by an exterior triple stairway or by a spiral ramp, but for almost half of the known ziggurats, no means of ascent has been discovered. The sloping sides and terraces were often landscaped with trees and shrubs (hence the Hanging Gardens of Babylon). The best-preserved ziggurat is at Ur (modern Tall al-Muqayyar). The largest, at Chogha Zanbil in Elam, is 335 feet (102 m) square and 80 feet (24 m) high and stands at less than half its estimated original height. The legendary Tower of Babel has been popularly associated with the ziggurat of the great temple of Marduk in Babylon.The city of Ur, modern Tall Al-muqayyar, or Tell El-muqayyar, important city of ancient southern Mesopotamia (Sumer), situated about 140 miles (225 km) southeast of the site of Babylon and about 10 miles (16 km) west of the present bed of the Euphrates River. In antiquity the river ran much closer to the city; the change in its course has left the ruins in a desert that once was irrigated and fertile land. The first serious excavations at Ur were made after World War I by H.R. Hall of the British Museum, and as a result a joint expedition was formed by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania that carried on the excavations under Leonard Woolley's directorship from 1922 until 1934. Almost every period of the city's lifetime has been illustrated by the discoveries, and knowledge of Mesopotamian history has been greatly enlarged.

Standard of Ur
2700 BCE
Ur, Iraq
Sumerian/MesopotamiaForm:  It is made of wood, shells and stone.  The Standard of Ur is broken up into the war side, middle left, and the peace side, top left.  The war side, on the bottom, features horse drawn chariots running over people.  In the middle, the prisoners have been captured and are being lead.  On the top, the prisoners have been striped naked and are being presented to a king figure.  He is the largest figure in the piece and he is also centered on the band.  On the bottom, of the peace side, men carry provisions.  In the middle they lead animals, and on the top a banquet takes place where the king figure is present again.  At this banquet there is a lyre player and a singer, they are shown in detail on the bottom left.
Iconography:  These pieces are iconographic of the morals of the culture.  Long hair is iconographic of a singer.  The hieratic scale and placement of the king figure are an icon of his power.  The standards are icons of peace and war.
Context:  Anthropologist Edmund Leach thinks that we see the world in a binary way so that is why they have the peace and war standards.  More meaning can be created, if it is used for demonstrative purposes, if there is something to compare an image against.  Scholars disagree as to weather the peace side banquet is a victory celebration or part of a cult ritual.

Sumerian Billy Goat and Tree from Ur
20" Tall
Wood, gold, lapis lazuli 
Form:  It is made out of wood, gold and lapps lazuli.  Great attention to detail has gone in to the making of this piece.  Each of the flowers have eight points and each little ruffle in the goats wool is depicted.Iconography:  Goats are symbols of fertility, power, and mans struggle with his animalistic side.  The tree may be a symbol for the tree of life.  The goat may also represent the fertility god Tammuz.
Context:  This is a tiny statue that was recovered at a royal burial site at Ur.  This statue is part of a pair that were found, both were crushed.  They may have been used as supports for an offering table.

Lyre of Queen Puabi
(Bull Lyre from the
tomb of
King Abargi)
2700 BCE
Ur, Iraq
Form:  This is a musical instrument that is made of wood, gold, lapis lazuli. and shell.  The head of the bull is very naturalistic despite the beard.  The top register of inlayed shell, directly beneath the bulls beard, depicts an athletic man holding two bulls with human faces.  The second register shows animals, walking like men, bringing food for a feast.  The third register shows the animals making music.  Finally, the fourth register shows a scorpion man being offered cups from a gazelle.Iconography:  The panels on the Lyre are iconographic of the humanization of animals.  It is iconographic of the after life and the animals might be icons of the ones that guard the gate to heaven.  It is a symbol of death because it was played at Queen Puabi's funeral.
Context:  Harps like this one were used in the funerary rights of the dead person and then buried with them.  There were songs that were chanted during these burials and copies of them have been found on cuneiform tablets.  The theme of this piece is the civilization of our wild nature.  See Summary of the Epic of Gilgamesh
The title of this work is open to a bit of debate.  Gardener's Art Through the Ages refers to this work as the "Bull headed lyre from the tomb of Puabi, Royal cemetery."  Stokstad refers to it as "Bull Lyre from the tomb of King Abargi."  You may use either one.

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin
2300 BCE
limestone 6'6"
Susa, Iran
Form:  This is a low relief carving on limestone. The figures are all in composite form.Iconography:  Proportionately the main figure of the king Naram Sin is exaggerated to emphasize his status.   When a figure's scale is emphasized in this manner it is referred to as hieratic scale.  (You will also see this in Egyptian art.  Naram-Sins helmet is adorned with bull horns.  Since bulls are powerful and virile creatures the horns are associated with his physical power as warrior. horns on his head are also an icon for power and virility, also symbols of a king.  The stars or sun in the right hand corner are symbols of divine support.  He's also holding a newer kind of weapon in his left hand called a composite bow which could also represent the Akkadian armies innovative battle technology.
Context:  This commemorates Naram Sin's defeat of the Lullubi.  It is inscribed twice, once in honor of this event and again when it was taken as booty when someone captured the city where it stood.
"Originally this stele was erected in the town of Sippar, centre of the cult of the Sun god, to the north of Babylon. lt was taken as booty to Susa by an Elamite king in the 12th century BC. lt illustrates the victory over the mountain people of western lran by Naram-Sin, 4th king of the Semite dynasty of Akkad, who claimed to be the universal monarch and was deified during his lifetime. He had himself depicted climbing the mountain at the head of his troops. His helmet bears the horns emblematic of divine power. Although it is worn, his face is expressive of the ideal human conqueror, a convention imposed on artists by the monarchy. The king tramples on the bodies of his enemies at the foot of a peak; above it the solar disk figures several times, and the king pays homage to it for his victory." - Louvre 
Head of an Akkadian Ruler
(Sargon of Akkad?)
bronze 12" 2200 BCE

Head of an Akkadian Ruler
(Sargon of Akkad?)
2200 BCE
Nineveh, Iraq
Form:  Made from bronze, this portrait head was probably part of a larger work.  Perhaps a full figure.  The shape and proportions of the face and head are naturalistic but the shape and texture of the eyebrows and hair are stylized in a geometric fashion.  Other stylizations or distortions occur in the exaggerated size of his eyes and nose.  These stylizations and exaggerations are attempts to idealizethis ruler and make him more handsome or beautiful than he probably was according to the ideals of physical perfection in the ancient near east. Iconography:  In most cultures, beauty and goodness are equated as being one in the same thing.  Certainly the cultures of Mesopotamia felt this way as well.  Therefore the portraits beauty is also equated with Sargon's inner beauty and or virtue.  His "virtuous" nature is symbolically enhanced by his beard.  Beards are icons of wisdom and because in order to grow a beard one needs to have matured to appoint beyond childhood.  (This same idea is evidenced in several versions of the Arthurian legends in which although King Arthur was able to pull the sword from the stone, his brothers still refer to him as "beardless"  and therefore too inexperienced or young to rule.
Context:  This statue is not in its original state.  This head was once part of a complete statue that was vandalized.  The ears were mutilated, the eyes gouged out, and the ears and part of the beard broken off.  It has been vandalized (literally defaced) in order to dishonor the ruler it once represented.  Originally the eyes in this head would have been inlayed with precious and semiprecious stones.
The tearing down of effigy monuments to symbolize the destruction or change in a regime is common to every era.  When US troops "liberated" Iraq in 2004 many of the statues of Sadam Hussein were either defaced or torn down from there pedestals.  In ancient Egypt, often older monuments constructed by previous pharaohs were recarved to resemble the newer rulers.

For all the videos in order with a textbook and study guides please visit:

Sargon the Great of Akkad is the first in a long (and possibly ever-extending) line of people whose life is driven by conquest. He was the first emperor of the world’s first empire. However, like most of the people who followed him, his empire didn’t last long.According to legend, Sargon’s mother was “changeling,” meaning a demon or a prostitute. He was probably born around 2350 BCE. He served as the cup-bearer of a king of the Sumerian city-state of Kish, but the king, sensing something divine in him, had Sargon killed. Sargon escaped the plot, rallied some tribesmen to his cause, and built a new city north of Sumer – Akkad. Sargon’s career has soared ever since. From Akkad, his armies blazed southward to conquer Sumer, Kish and all. From the Persian Gulf, he made a northwestward sweep to Lebanon.
The Akkadian Empire was a very wealthy empire; it derived its wealth not just from plunder but also from trade. Sumer was smack in the middle of the trade routes that connected the Indus Valley, Egypt, and Mediterranean civilizations. Akkad wasn’t actually the first city to enjoy the benefits of trade in the Mesopotamian region, and it wasn’t going to be the last.
Sargon tried to keep his empire in the hands of his sons, but his successors lacked Sargon’s power; the city-states of Sumer rebelled against Akkad, destroying the Akkadian Empire.

Statues from Tell Asmar
2,900 BCE - 2,600 BCE
made from painted gypsum
Tell Asmar, Iraq
SumerianForm:  The statues are made of gypsum and inlayed with shell and black limestone.  The men have long hair, beards, belts, and fringed skirts.  The women wear dresses that leave the right shoulder bare.  The eyes are exaggerated, while the hands are downplayed.
Iconography:  The figures are iconographic of real people not deities.  The large eyes may symbolize eternal wakefulness or the need to approach a god with an attentive gaze.  They are iconographic of the early religious practices of the Sumerians.
Context:  The were buried beneath the floor of a temple.  Donors may have commissioned these statues to be built in their image so that their prayers are forever being said to the gods.

Reconstruction of Statues from Tell Asmar
2,900 BCE - 2,600 BCE
made from painted gypsum
Tell Asmar, Iraq
Museum of Natural History, NYC
Web ArtLex n [ME bithumen mineral pitch, fr. L bitumin-, bitumen] (15c) 1: an asphalt of Asia Minor used in ancient times as a cement and mortar 2: any of various mixtures of hydrocarbons (as tar) often together with their nonmetallic derivatives that occur naturally or are obtained as residues after heat-refining natural substances (as petroleum); specif: such a mixture soluble in carbon disulfide -- n -- bi.tu.mi.nize vt
composite view     A view of the human body in Egyptian and Mesopotamian art in which several points of view of the human body are merged into one.  Often the figure is depicted with the head, legs and arms in a profile point of view while the torso of the figure is depicted in a frontal view.  The head which is depicted in a profile view often depicts the eyes in a frontal view.  This is especially so in Egyptian art but in Mesopotamian art it is less consistent.  The purpose of the this point of view is probably both symbolic and formal.  In terms of form, it is often easier to depict parts of the body in profile.  This is certainly so in prehistoric art. n, pl -gies [MF effigie, fr. L effigies, fr. effingere to form, fr. ex- + fingere to shape--more at dough] (1539): an image or representation esp. of a person; esp: a crude figure representing a hated person -- in effigy : publicly in the form of an effigy 
gyp.sum n [L, fr. Gk gypsos] (14c) 1: a widely distributed mineral consisting of hydrous calcium sulfate that is used esp. as a soil amendment and in making plaster of paris adj [ME ydeall, fr. LL idealis, fr. L idea] (15c) 1: existing as an archetypal idea 2 a: existing as a mental image or in fancy or imagination only; broadly: lacking practicality b: relating to or constituting mental images, ideas, or conceptions 3 a: of, relating to, or embodying an ideal b: conforming exactly to an ideal, law, or standard: perfect --compare real 2b(3) 4: of or relating to philosophical idealism ²ideal n (15c) 1: a standard of perfection, beauty, or excellence 2: one regarded as exemplifying an ideal and often taken as a model for imitation 3: an ultimate object or aim of endeavor: goal 4: a subset of a mathematical ring that is closed under addition and subtraction and contains the products of any given element of the subset with each element of the ring syn see model -- adj 
pro.file n [It profilo, fr. profilare to draw in outline, fr. pro- forward (fr. L) + filare to spin, fr. LL--more at file] (ca. 1656) 1: a representation of something in outline; esp: a human head or face represented or seen in a side view 2: an outline seen or represented in sharp relief: contour 3: a side or sectional elevation: as a: a drawing showing a vertical section of the ground b: a vertical section of a soil from the ground surface to the underlying unweathered material 4: a set of data often in graphic form portraying the significant features of something ; esp: a graph representing the extent to which an individual exhibits traits or abilities as determined by tests or ratings 5: a concise biographical sketch 6: degree or level of public exposure syn see outline ²profile vt pro.filed ; (1715) 1: to represent in profile or by a profile: produce (as by drawing, writing, or graphing) a profile of 2: to shape the outline of by passing a cutter around -- n 

Courses on Udemy:

Painting a Figure Study with Max Ginsburg Video Release TOMORROW


Figure Demo Video Release

(Sept 15, Morning EST)

This two and a half hour video, to be released on, will show you the beginning and completion of a three quarter length figure study, with explanations of procedure from Max Ginsburg and HD camera quality showing every stroke. Also featuring a special intro!

ALSO$5 off Max's head study video starting tomorrow!
Watch trailer below for a brief snippet from the video!
Copyright © Max Ginsburg 2020




Dear Kenneth,


September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Suicides comprise nearly two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States, and firearms are the most frequently used method of suicide. At the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV), we work every day to prevent firearm suicide and endorse and support leaders who will do the same. With the election nearing, we take our role more seriously than ever. After all, we know suicide is a systemic problem that requires systemic solutions. Will you join us and support leaders who will prioritize the health and well-being of all Americans?


As CSGV’s Director of Strategic Communications Bryan Barks wrote in a recent Medium blog, “It’s time to address mental health and substance use, access to lethal means (especially guns), and the factors that make life seem unlivable for so many — food insecurity, houselessness, trauma, unemployment, isolation. These are major social problems and risk factors for suicide. They were problems before COVID-19, and they’ve been exacerbated by this administration’s abysmal handling of the pandemic. This is political. This is systemic. And it has to change if we’re going to save lives.”


We have a chance to address these issues on November 3. Together, we can make change in 2020 and beyond! By making a gift during National Suicide Prevention Month, you can help us continue to fight for policies that prevent suicide -- and elect leaders who will champion policies that save lives! Please make a donation now and stand with us in our fight to make gun violence -- including firearm suicide -- rare and abnormal.


Thank you and stay safe, 


Josh Horwitz

Executive Director 

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence 


Friday, September 11, 2020

Art of the Ancient Near East, Catal Huyuk, Turkey 6,500 BCE - 5,700 BCE


The city/site of Catal Huyuk, Turkey 6,500 BCE - 5,700 BCE (You will see the name of the site, which is Turkish for “forked path” spelled in a variety of ways.)

In 2015 Dr. Ian Hodder concluded his excavation of Catal Huyuk in Turkey. In the subsequent years he has given several talks, including one of Google, in which she explains how much his point of view of the culture and history of Catal Huyuk has changed since he first started studying it in the 1960s. 
Many of the groundbreaking ideas that earlier excavators had used to explain the site now seem to be overturned by more contemporary evidence gleaned from this site as well as other sites like Gobekli Tepe. One of the most fundamental of these ideas is the long-held belief in the theory that human kind changed from a Hunter gatherer existence to a sedentary agricultural existence when human beings started farming. The evidence from Gobekli Tepe and further fleshed out in his excavations at Catal Huyuk seem to have overturned the idea that humanity began to settle down when agriculture began.  Gobekli Tepe was settled in 10,000 BCE and humans started to harm in 8,000 BCE. 

It appears that humankind probably started to settle down and become semi-sedentary in 10,000 BCE mainly because of how we think and how we socialize. We began to settle into groups as a way of ensuring our survival and then it appears as if agriculture happened around 2000 years after that.

Catal Huyuk was settled almost concurrently with the development of human agriculture and may have been a factor in leading its population to grow to a population of approximately 7,000 people. The field or site on which Catal Huyuk exists in the Konya plane of Turkey was an environment that was suited for the production of Emmer Wheat, wild barley and wild Einkorn wheat.  
The environment was mostly rich in wild game, edible plants, and also was well irrigated possibly by a series of streams. The soil was probably very fertile because of the volcanic mountain range located to itself that may have left deposits of rich soil and minerals. It appears that the settlement or city of Catal Huyuk lasted about 2,000 years and then threw over farming and overhunting probably exhausted the environment and the civilization gave out. 

The people lived in post and beam homes constructed with timber uprights, mud brick walls, stone walls, and coated with mineral lime as a paint and preservative. The houses were grouped in Pueblo like apartments that were entered into through the roofs of the dwellings by a ladder. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence that the construction of these hives of people was done so with the intent of defense against hostile invaders. It also appears from the excavations and the data gained from the physical remains that the culture was fairly peaceful and also did not have a ruling or elite class. It also appears that the families were the idea of family was not as rooted in the traditions that we understand today concerning the basic unit being a mother or father child or children. It appears that children were raised more communally and would often not even live in the homes in which they were born and were raised by the community in a larger sense. Ian Hodder refers to this as cultural entanglements and describes the culture as being almost socialist in a way.

Most of the excavations at Catal Huyuk center around the years 6500 BCE. Dr. Hodder and other excavators have only excavated approximately 5% of the site and are being extremely conservative in how the site is being used and are carefully recording as much data as possible and extrapolating from that.

The homes were arranged in a hive like pattern and several generations would often live in the same floor plan for several iterations of the building.  Homes were rebuilt by filling in earlier layers and then lower structure was used as a kind of foundation and plan.  The floorplan of the newer structure copied the building that had been filled in. This is been very useful in understanding their lifestyle and also in doing accurate excavations of the site and identifying the physical culture and remains of humans.   For example, even the wall decorations were reproduced in the newer building as in the case of these two wall reliefs that depict two leopards facing one another.

Another interesting idea that Dr. Hodder suggests is that there does not seem to be a correlation between size of the structure and the goods within. For example, larger homes with more rooms did not often contain more items such as wall decorations, murals, and luxury items such as obsidian blades. Dr. Hodder concludes that in the way that we assume a large home of our time will contain more luxury goods and material goods is not the same in Catal Huyuk. Status of one house to another was not determined by the amount of goods found in it or the size of the space the structure contained.

It appears that each structure or home contained a sort of “club” or social grouping that was not linked to matrilineal or patrilineal descent. The homes were probably a little bit more like a kibbutz in Israel than a European or American home.

Obsidian knives and mirrors were found in Catal Huyuk, however, the earlier theory proposed by Dr. Mellaart in the 1960s that Catal Huyuk was a central trading post and distributed obsidian goods throughout the ancient world appears now to be inaccurate because Dr. Hodder’s recent excavations have yielded such a small amount of obsidian knives and mirrors that the people of Catal Huyuk would not have enough to establish a strong trade route for those goods.

When the homes were excavated by Dr. Hodder he discovered many instances of human skeletons and plastered skulls placed reverently beneath the floors of the dwellings. The analysis of the genetic markers exhibited by the teeth of the skeletons and skulls indicates that the bodies come from several groups of people throughout community. The natural assumption that people at Catal Huyuk buried their parents or ancestors who they were directly linked to is not accurate. It appears that the people who are buried beneath the homes were probably leaders of the community and not necessarily members of the genetic family who lived in the dwelling above. In addition to this, there is evidence that many of the human remains found in upper levels, were excavated by the people of Catal Huyuk and placed beneath the floors of new were generations of structures sometimes with later skeletons. Skulls were moved around independently of skeletal remains. In at least one building a plastered skull was found beneath the main support of one of the buildings. A possible interpretation of this is that the ancestor/leader who skull was buried underneath the main support was placed there to ensure some sort of supernatural support of the household. 

Many of the walls of the structures were decorated with murals or frescoes. The high white of the limestone coding of the walls was a perfect background for mural painting. The walls were often repainted with this high white line plaster/paint and a new mural was placed on top sometimes as often as once or twice a year. (A discussion of the subject matter and iconography of the murals will be later on in this essay.)

The dwelling consisted usually of the central room that was entered through the top of the home by a ladder. To travel through Catal Huyuk one traveled across the rooftops of the structures. The opening in the top of the roof served both as a chimney and an entry and exit point and directly beneath most of these ladders is a small hearth in which cooking was done. The floors were covered with straw mats and often the walls were not just decorated with frescoes or wall things but also had animal bones and skulls embedded in the walls, sometimes jutting out. The animal remains are always wild animals and there are no domestic animals used as wall decorations as we might assume incorrectly by the bull horns.

The central room with its hearth also had a series of shelves and demarcated areas in it that subdivided the space as well as extra rooms that were entered into through small doorways. Again, it’s important to note that when Dr. James Mellaart originally excavated some of the dwellings, he incorrectly assumed that some of them were houses of worship or gathering rooms. Subsequent excavations and investigations indicate that there were no dedicated religious or political spaces at Catal Huyuk.  In his excavations during the 1960s and 70’s Dr. Mellaart excavated a dwelling that was decorated with bull horns.  One dwelling was particularly dense with decorations.  The presence of several sets of horns as well as a relief sculpture of a bear? Or another animal possibly giving birth caused Mellaart to assume that this particular house was a shrine or a dwelling, however, Dr. Hodder’s excavations later unearthed enough evidence to make this seem unlikely, however, the presence of so much decoration concentrated in one location , many of which were related to wild bulls, begs the question of how were these objects interpreted in used? 

One of the most subjects at Catal Huyuk are bulls and there are also many structures in which bull horns ornament the interiors so it makes sense to try and understand why this might be important.  54% of all the animal bones found at Catal Huyuk embedded as decoration were from cattle.  It appears that, although Catal Huyuk had domesticated animals they also hunted wild animals such as wild boars, cattle, deer, and goats.

This wall painting represents a red bull being attacked by humans. So far only 1% of the murals uncovered at Catal Huyuk bulls, 12% of the murals are dedicated to red deer and 10% of the murals represent goats. All of the animals that are represented in the murals appear to be on domesticated species. In many of the representations of deer and wild boars the central figure of the animal is surrounded by a crowd of anthropomorphic figures many of them wearing what appears to be loincloths made of leopard skin and many of them also have tales coming out of the back. These tales have been interpreted as possibly representations of leopards or a leopard human hybrid.  One of the things that we do see, and seems to be important in the paintings of Catal Huyuk is that the clothing of the human figures seem designed to be clear representations of the loincloths with spots.

Dr. Hodder explains that the murals representing wild animals and people are probably best interpreted as groups of people subduing were controlling wild animals. Dr. Hodder describes this as harassing, baiting or taunting the wild animal.  This seems like a popular theme in many cultures and times. The control of wild elements or animals by humans is often seen as a metaphor for making order out of chaos or controlling wild elements.

Hodder explains that the scenes are likely not hunting scenes but a rite of passage or ceremony in which a large animal was symbolically hunted. This in some ways relates to our concept of the rodeo or bullfight today.  These celebrations of subduing wild animals also relate to findings at places such as Knossos in which there are bull leaping ceremonies and other goods found on the mainland such as this cup that represents a kind of rodeo in which a young man is looping a rope around the back leg of the bull.

Representations of the lines such as leopards in many cultures is often an expression of some sort of power or prowess. As a Hunter or possibly as a powerful entity such as a King or ruler. Keeping in mind that it appears that the culture at Catal Huyuk was fairly egalitarian and did not have the upper class of rulers the prevalence of leopard imagery probably relates to hunting or physical power.

There are also various relief sculptures showing leopards in profile. Sometimes repeated in several generations of the same building. 35% of all of the relief imagery at Catal Huyuk is devoted to leopards as well and there is a figure of a large female seated on some sort of thrown flanked by leopards.

In fact, 65% of all of the murals uncovered so far at Catal Huyuk contain some sort of leopard imagery. This can be in the form of anthropomorphic figures with some sort of leopard loincloth and a tail projecting off the back of the figure. However, in all of the excavation so far, they have not excavated a single feline or leopard bone. Which is a bit of the mystery.

If you look closely at this mural from what was originally thought of as a shrine, but is probably a group home, the style of rendering is very close to some of the images that we have from Paleolithic Europe such as Lascaux and Altamira.  Most of the animals represented in murals as well as the figures are represented as profile points of view. Profile points of view are probably a more understandable or schematic representation of forms for early artists. Things are more recognizable probably in terms of profile and are also easier to draw. This does not mean that they did not have a tradition of how to paint and draw. It probably indicates that they had a tradition or a style that was passed down from one artist to another.

In terms of the space that is created compositionally in these murals, the murals also share with Paleolithic art the fact that there is no foreground, middle ground, and background in the picture plane. All of the figures and animals appear to be on one plane. For example, there are no trees in the background and there is no overlapping in the mural to create the illusion of space. Unlike the murals at Lascaux, wall paintings at Catal Huyuk were probably done by one or two people in a very short period of time and if the mural was no longer needed, or new mural was to be painted, they covered the surface first with white plaster to create a fresh picture. In Paleolithic painting usually the animal figures are overlapping and out of proportion with the animal surrounding it because various artists over hundreds of years continue to return to the spot to create new paintings without much regard to the painting that was there before it. In this way the paintings from Catal Huyuk are more a complete single image of a scene or a moment in time.

Many of the paintings in the Paleolithic era were done almost as a series of outlines that were then painted in with various colors, however, the paintings at Catal Huyuk appeared to be more as a type of silhouette or cut out that has no shading or modulation tone or colors as in Paleolithic painting. It appears to me flatter and more diagrammatic in some ways than its earlier counterpart.

One of the most reproduced and well-known murals from Catal Huyuk, is reproduced as an installation at the Museum in Turkey. Despite the fact that this mural is so well known it is probably the most problematic of the works discovered at Catal Huyuk because it’s hard to understand what it might represent. It seems as if it’s a bit of an anomaly.

The two interpretations of this mural differ greatly. The first and most popular interpretation is that the mural represents a sort of city plan of Catal Huyuk surmounted by an image of the twin mountain range visible from the site on the Konya plane. The two mountain peaks are referred to as the Tarsus mountains. This interpretation fits in fairly well with what we understand about the formal qualities of mural painting at Catal Huyuk. For example, since the artists at Catal Huyuk don’t seem to have a tradition of portraying space, a foreground middle ground background, the painting itself makes sense because the mountains are on the same plane as the city. The square modules or blocks that represent the city seem to correspond somewhat with the layout of the rooms were floorplans of some of the architecture.

Another interpretation of this mural is simply that the orange or reddish orange mass above the squares is a representation of a leopard skin.  However, I’m not sure how one might interpret the design underneath. Perhaps, it is just a geometric design and not a representation of anything. There are several homes at Catal Huyuk that are decorated with simple geometric designs.

Visit this page to see examples of geometric designs, extra wall paintings, and pictures of human figurines.

When Dr. Mellaart began excavations in the 1960s one of the things that was excavated was a foot and a half tall clay sculpture of seated female figure, flanked by two animals. The figure was discovered in a room that was used to store grains. When it was discovered was missing its arms and head, the head of the animal to the figure’s left. The completed figured that you see is a restoration by modern scholars.

The small sculpture is sometimes called the “Grimaldi Goddess” is very similar in its design and look to several of the female figures found in the Paleolithic era. It is a recognizable female with large breasts and stomach. On the figures right hand side is a complete animal that probably represents some sort of feline perhaps a Jaguar or leopard. Many figures made of clay depicting females with similar anatomies have been found throughout Catal Huyuk. They also found clay figures representing animals.  About half of the figures found at Catal Huyuk are of animals and the other half are representations of humans some of which it is hard to determine whether they are male or female.  

Stylistically, the figures found at Catal Huyuk whether they are human or animal share in the same abbreviated characteristics of many of the Paleolithic carvings and Neolithic carvings at Gobekli Tepe of similar subjects. The figures usually abbreviate facial features or abstract the features into dots or recognizable shapes that look like facial features.

When this Grimaldi figure was discovered scholars made the assumption or interpretation that Catal Huyuk may have had a religion that was focused on some sort of goddess cult. However, several things contradict this theory despite the fact that so many female figures were found.

Although this figure was found in a grain storage area, most of these figures were found in the trash heaps that were placed between the buildings. The assumption can be made that they were discarded along with other refuse which would in some ways make them seem less respected or important to the people who discarded them. Another interesting element to the Grimaldi figure is that it is a figure that is seated on some sort of throne or chair and it is flanked by two animals most likely leopards. It is possible that given the leopards prevalence as a symbol, the location of the find in a grain storage, and the chair the figure is seated on that the original theory that this is a goddess looking over a grain been may be accurate.

Most recently another figure carved entirely of stone about a foot and a half long was found in a ceremonial placement that Dr. Hodder describes as an altar alongside of a valuable obsidian mirror. Which may mean that figures like this did hold some sort of reverence for the people who made them.

Courses on Udemy:

Questions for Discussion
What are some of the subjects and ideas expressed or illustrated in the art of Catal Huyuk?
Are the subjects similar to the art found in Europe during the Paleolithic period?  If they are similar why is this?
Why is it important that human skulls are found at this site?