Hittite art and architecture

Art of the Hittite Empire

Hittite art drew upon far earlier sources developed in Sumer and Babylon (see Sumerian and Babylonian art) and upon local Anatolian culture of the 3d millennium B.C., characterized by elaborate gold and bronze ornamental work found at Alacahöyük and earlier Neolithic remains found at Çatalhöyük dating from the 7th millennium B.C. The Hittites quickly assimilated many aspects of the cultures they overran. They adopted a pantheon of Mesopotamian and N Syrian gods and represented them in their art—the males with high pointed hats, short-skirted robes, and boots with long, curling toes, and the females with long, pleated robes and square hats.

The Hittites were accomplished carvers and metalworkers. Among the most impressive late representatives of Hittite deities is a series of ornaments from Carchemish made to adorn a royal golden robe; they are carved in steatite and lapis lazuli and mounted in gold cloisons, each 5/8 in. (14.5 cm) high (7th cent. B.C.; British Mus.). The Hittites adapted the Babylonian cuneiform to their language and also employed an elaborate hieroglyphic script for the engraving of monuments.

Although animal figures are to be found in abundance in the artistic remains of the Hittites, their chief concern was human activity, particularly religious ritual. At the Great Sanctuary of Yazilikaya near Boğazköy is a magnificent series of mythological scenes in carved rock depicting lions and sphinxes attending gods and goddesses. At Ivriz another rock relief represents King Warbalawa praying before the god Tarhan, a capped and booted figure hung about with grapes and holding grain to symbolize fertility (8th cent. B.C.).

There remain fewer representations of royal domestic life, including a hunting scene from Alacahöyük (200 B.C., Archaelogical Mus., Ankara), a family procession with King Araras with his children and their nurse and pets from Carchemish (750 B.C.), and a few polychrome vase paintings from Bitik, near Ankara, one of which is thought to depict a marriage. Other vases were made in animal shapes (e.g., duck vase, c.1700 B.C., from Beycesultan, Archaeological Mus., Ankara) and in the form of domestic items (e.g., boot vase, 19th cent. B.C., from Kültepe, Archaeological Mus., Ankara). A minor art of considerable development was the signet seal, generally containing figures and a cuneiform inscription, which the Hittites used instead of the cylinder seal popular with neighboring cultures.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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