In Mesopotamian Babylonia, an abundance of clay and lack of stone led to greater use of mud brick. Babylonian temples were massive structures of crude brick supported by buttresses, with drains to remove rain. The use of brick led to the early development of the pilaster, column, frescoes, and enameled tiles. Walls were brilliantly colored and sometimes plated with zinc or gold, as well as with tiles. Painted terra cotta cones for torches were also embedded in the plaster. In Babylonia, three-dimensional figures often replaced bas-relief—the earliest examples being the Statues of Gudea, which are realistic if somewhat clumsy. The paucity of stone in Babylonia made every pebble precious and led to perfection in the art of gem cutting.
Sumer was an ancient civilization that saw its artistic styles change throughout different periods in its history.
The Eridu economy produced abundant food, which allowed its inhabitants to settle in one location and form a labor force specializing in diverse arts and crafts. Writing produced during the early Sumerian period suggest the abundance of pottery and other artistic traditions. Elements of the early Sumerian culture spread through a large area of the Near and Middle East. The Sumerian city states rose to power during the prehistorical Ubaid and Uruk periods.
Sumer was an ancient civilization in southern Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) during the Early Bronze Age. Although the historical records in the region do not go back much further than ca. 2900 BCE, modern historians believe that Sumer was first settled between ca. 4500 and 4000 BCE by people who may or may not have spoken the Sumerian language. These people, now called the “Ubaidians,” were the first to drain the marshes for agriculture; develop trade; and establish industries including weaving, leatherwork, metalwork, masonry, and pottery.
One of the most significant developments following the Sumerians was the arrival of the Babylonians by about 1830 BCE. One of the enlightened rulers of this civilization was Hammurabi (ruled c. 1792-1750 BCE) who established the first written code of law. The Stele of Hammurabi is a vertical stone stele inscribed in cuneiform with an entire set of laws that covered everything from inheritance to murder. On top, Hammurabi receives the tools of rulership from his God, Shamash or possibly Marduk. Interestingly, those tools are tools of measurement, as in building, suggesting that the law was seen as measuring out justice.
During the period of the Akkadian Empire (2271-2154 BCE), sculpture of the human form grew increasingly naturalistic, and its subject matter increasingly about
politics and warfare.
The Assyrian and Neo-Assyrian capitals of Nimrud, Dur-Sharrukin, and Nineveh are known today for their ruins of great palaces and fortifications.