“The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW) presents A Wonder to Behold: Craftsmanship and the Creation of Babylon’s Ishtar Gate, opening new avenues for understanding one of the most spectacular achievements of the ancient world. The exhibition features 180 objects that bring to life the synthesis of masterful craftsmanship and ancient beliefs that transformed clay, minerals, and organic materials—seen as magically potent substances—into this powerful monument.
A Wonder to Behold demonstrates how the master craftspeople who designed and built the Ishtar Gate and its affiliated Processional Way were not simply skilled technicians—though they were certainly that—but also artists, historians, and ritual practitioners known as “experts” (ummânū). They were believed capable of creating artworks that manifested divine powers on Earth, and the Ishtar Gate, offering entry into the imperial city of Babylon, was designed to be one such magically activated monument.” — ISAW
I filled those gates with splendor for the wonder of all people. — Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon
Three fragmentary bricks with palmette motif Achaemenid Period, ca. 559–331 BCE. Glazed siliceous material. Susa, Iran. (a) H. 8.6 cm; W. 21.4 cm; D. 12.6 cm; (b) H. 8.6 cm; W. 21.5 cm; D. 10.4 cm; (c) H. 8.6 cm; W. 18.8 cm; D. 13.8 cm. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1948: 48.98.20a–c CC0 1.0. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Vessel with frieze of kneeling bulls. Iron Age III, ca. 800–600 BCE. Glazed baked clay. Said to be from Ziwiye, Iran. H. 43.5 cm; Diam. 29.2 cm. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1955: 55.121.2. Image copyright © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY
Bricks with a protective bull-man and cuneiform inscription. Middle Elamite Period, Shutrukid Dynasty (reign of Kutir-Nahhunte and Shilhak-Inshushinak, ca. 1150–1120 BCE). Molded baked clay. Inshushinak Temple, Apadana Mound, Susa, Iran. H. 139 cm; W. 36 cm; D. 33 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, Département des Antiquités orientales: Sb 21960. © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY. Photo: Franck Raux
Bricks with the head of an archer. Achaemenid Period (reign of Darius I, ca. 510 BCE). Molded and glazed siliceous material. Palace of Darius I, Susa, Iran. H. 27 cm; W. 46.8 cm; D. 12 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, Département des Antiquités orientales: Sb 21878. © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY. Photo Christian Larrieu
Fragmentary tile with a genie standing on two griffins in contest with two monsters. Neo-Elamite Period, ca. 800–700 BCE. Glazed siliceous material. Ville Royale Mound, Susa, Iran. H.18 cm; L. 20.5 cm; D. 2.3 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, Département des Antiquités orientales, Fouilles R. de Mecquenem: Sb 3352. © Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Thierry Ollivier / Art Resource, NY
Mold for a female figurine. Middle Elamite Period, ca. 1500–1100 BCE. Molded baked clay Susa, Iran. H. 19 cm; W. 8.5 cm; D. 3 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, Département des Antiquités orientales: Sb 7413. © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY. Photo: Franck Raux
Walter Andrae. Reconstruction of bricks with a mušhuššu-dragon from the Ishtar Gate. 1902 CE. Watercolor and graphite on board. H. 117 cm; W. 164 cm. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Vorderasiatisches Museum: VAK 0009. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Vorderasiatisches Museum, Photo: Olaf M. Teßmer
Walter Andrae. Partial reconstruction of the throne room façade from Nebuchadnezzar II’s Southern Palace showing fitters’ marks on bricks. 1901 CE. Watercolor on paper. H. 31.6 cm; W. 70.6 cm. Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft, Berlin: ArDOG V.28.18. © Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft, Archiv; Photo: Olaf M. Teßmer
Artist unknown. Reconstruction of bricks with a mušhuššu-dragon from the Ishtar Gate. ca. 1899–1917 CE. Graphite on paper. H. 33.2 cm; W. 48 cm. Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft, Berlin: ArDOG V.28.41. © Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft, Archiv; Photo: Olaf M. Teßmer
Reconstructed panel of bricks with a striding lion Neo-Babylonian Period (reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, 604–562 BCE). Molded and glazed baked clay. Processional Way, El-Kasr Mound, Babylon, Iraq. H. 99.7 cm; W. 230.5 cm. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Fletcher Fund, 1931: 31.13.2 CC0 1.0. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
A Wonder to Behold was organized by ISAW and co-curated by its Associate Director of Exhibitions and Gallery Curator, Clare Fitzgerald, PhD, with guest curators Anastasia Amrhein, an art historian specializing in the ancient Middle East (University of Pennsylvania), and Elizabeth Knott, PhD, a historian specializing in the textual and visual remains of the ancient Middle East (NYU).
Images courtesy Institute for the Study of the Ancient World.