Ishtar Gate Lion, Babylon, Iraq

Reconstructed panel of bricks with a striding lion Neo-Babylonian Period; Processional Way, El-Kasr Mound, Babylon, Iraq; CC0 1.0 Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Brick by Brick: Technical Considerations on Building the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way

Exhibition Lecture

Sarah Graff and Jean-Francois de Laperouse

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 This lecture takes the form of a conversation between a conservator and curator on the technical aspects of making bricks in the form of animals for the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way. We will reconstruct the process of how the bricks were made and assembled. Close observation of the composition of the animals reveals that the craftspeople made deliberate choices about how to lay out these images across a grid of bricks. These choices were not based in a desire to streamline the working process or economize on labor and materials, but rather were motivated by a preference for symmetry and for minimizing the visual interference of the brick grid on the pictorial elements of the composition. We will end with a look at the monumental task of reconstructing the panels after the fragments arrived in Berlin.

Sarah Graff joined the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art in 2007, after spending 2006–7 as a Hagop Kevorkian Curatorial Fellow. She earned her PhD from New York University's Institute of Fine Arts in 2012, with a dissertation on the Mesopotamian demon Humbaba (or Huwawa). She has published articles and given talks on monsters, demons, and magic, and on the magical and mythical qualities of clay, among other topics. 

J-F de Lapérouse has been an objects conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for over 30 years working primarily with the Ancient Near East and Islamic Art collections.  He received his conservation training at the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts where he later worked towards a doctoral degree in Ancient Near East Art until the demands of work and parenthood intervened.

This gallery talk is given in conjunction with ISAW's exhibition A Wonder to Behold: The Power of Craftsmanship and the Creation of Babylon’s Ishtar Gate. This exhibition along with its associated catalogue and programming are made possible by generous support from the Selz Foundation, The Achelis and Bodman Foundation, and the Leon Levy Foundation. Additional funding provided by the Dennis and Diane Bennett Charitable Trust, Elizabeth Bartman, and Karen S. Rubinson.

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