MMA IAP 10310750297

2350-2150 B.C. Written in Akkadian A cylinder seal with a "bull-man" fighting a lion and a nude man fighting a water buffalo. (all photos from

Most of the mediums used for art and utensils were the same. Limestone, gold, silver, copper, lapis lazuli, shells, alabaster were the most commonly used mediums. Due to the terrain and conditions in Mesopotamia in the third millennium, or Early Dynastic Period, these materials were the only things they had to use other than clay and the stone used for buildings. Some of the metals that were used for the art was also found in other areas that were similar to Mesopotamia. Places like Egypt had a very similar collection of materials and it is believed that the people of these two areas would trade different metals.

In Egypt there were a few different mediums that Mesopotamia did not have. Egypt used limestone, copper and all of those but also gypsum, flint, steatite, serpentine, soft stones, wood, sandstones that were near the Nile, and hard igneous and metamorphic rock in the deserts and cataracts. There were many other smaller materials used to cover things like gesso, a glue like polish that covered statues, and earth toned paints for statues and walls (

Types of Art in Mesopotamia and EgyptEdit

Cylinder seals were a common piece of art in the third millennium of Mesopotamia. The seals were made up of gold, lapis lazuli, white limestone, and shell. The artists would use sharp objects like knives and chisels to carve the drawings. They had pictures and sometimes words carved around them so they could be rolled out over sand or clay to display the message. Some were larger but most were worn as jewelry around their neck, wrist, or on their belt. There is a theory that depending on what was drawn on the seal depended on the material. If there was a banquet carved onto a seal the seal would be made up of lapis lazuli. However, for the combat scenes the seal would be carved into a piece of white material, like shell or calcite. There is another theory that the people of Early Dynastic Period Mesopotamia were buried with the cylinder that described the role they played in the community. If the cylinder was a banquet scene then they were probably a woman that worked in the court, or if it was a combat scene then it was probably a man who was some time of warrior (

Metal vessels were another decorative art that also served as a household item. They were often found in tombs, which is why they are considered art. These pieces were constructed with copper based alloys, gold, electrum, and silver. Sometimes it would be a mixture of these metals. Tin was added to these mediums in the third millennium. To mold the vessels into the desired shape they would use heating methods such as sweating and soldering, especially if there were multiple parts to the vessel (a bottom and a top). Hammers, anvils, and small blades were used to shape the bowls and the ridges on the rim. Sometimes designs were shaped into the sides of the vessels but not all the time.

The tools they used to create art and other objects that could be considered art was made up of similar material. Gold and gold alloys were the most commonly found but others used silver, electrum, copper, and copper based alloys. The tools handles were sometimes made out of lapis lazuli for unknown reasons. Copper was usually the “top coat” on top of the electrum or gold parts of the tool and even weapons. The Mesopotamians made the tools by casting or hammering the metals. There weren’t many decorations on tools or weapons since they were made to decorate other objects.

There was a mosaic piece that was found in the royal tomb of Ur. This mosaic was constructed with pieces of shell, lapis lazuli, and red limestone. The piece was irregular shaped since it was wider at the bottom than the top and the pieces were triangular. This piece of art is more like today’s view of art rather than what is was in Mesopotamia. Usually in the third millennium their art served more than one purpose, like the seals revealing messages and the vessels holding and being used as household utensils.

Statues were usually made out of all the mentioned stone mediums and were done of leaders. These could be depicting gods, princes, queens, or kings. Usually they are directed by the king or queen on how they would like to be represented. This is the same in Egypt. Statues were of worshipped people or gods. The construction was also planned out by the king or queen that was bring praised (

Stone was the most common used medium in both locations for objects and construction of buildings. Something more common was woodwork in Egypt than in Mesopotamia. Both used limestone because it was easy to cut out in one piece from the nearby riverbeds but wooden statues were uncovered more in Egypt than in Mesopotamia. Woodworkers would use copper, and bronze chisels, bow-drills, saws and adzes to create their work. Wood was carved and then covered in a material called gesso to give it a glossier look. Woods like ebony and boxwood would be left in their raw state rather than covered is gesso. Most statues were made of gold and bronze but the ones made of wood were sometimes painted, covered with a gold leaf, and some were dressed in jewels. Yellow, red, and brown paints were used more due to the accessibility of those colors due to the earth. The Egyptians were the first to use these colors and use them as paint (

For hard stones, the Egyptians would put them in areas with mud-walls and a lit fire so the water will soak the rock and make it easier to shape with flint tools. In tombs no hammers were used, only flint tools and smaller stone tools so there would not be too much stone chipping off the walls. The art done in the tomb was more painted than chiseled compared to the Mesopotamian tombs. Where Egypt had both, Mesopotamia used only carved drawings and words; no paint (

Overall ComparisonEdit

In both locations limestone was widely used for their art pieces. Their statues would always represent someone of higher power, like kings, queens, and gods. In tombs and on decorations the artists in Egypt and Mesopotamia used relief, a style of carving where the design was raised from the background to look more 3D.