The Prehistoriography of Mesopotamian Art
Melissa Eppihimer, Instructor, History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh
The study of Mesopotamian art is often said to have begun in the 19th century, when spectacular sculptures were uncovered in the Assyrian capital cities of Nineveh, Nimrud and Khorsabad. However, examples of Mesopotamian art had been in European collections of art and antiquities since the Renaissance. During the 17th and 18th centuries, these artifacts, mostly cylinder and stamp seals, were not recognized as Mesopotamian. Instead, they were collected alongside the gems of Greece and Rome, among which they were thought to belong, or classified as Egyptian amulets. This talk examines the ideas, methods, and publications of the collectors and scholars who engaged with Mesopotamian art in the early modern period in order to explain their erroneous conclusions. The analysis of the history of the collections and the historiography of ancient art illuminates the prehistoriography of Mesopotamian art and demonstrates how this period of scholarship set the stage for later, better-known developments in the field.