In the ancient Near East, expert craftspeople were more than technicians: they numbered among those special members of society who could access the divine. While the artisans’ names are largely unknown today, their legacy remains in the form of spectacular artworks and monuments. One of the most celebrated works of antiquity—Babylon’s Ishtar Gate and its affiliated Processional Way—featured a dazzling array of colorful beasts assembled from molded, baked, and glazed bricks. Such an awe-inspiring structure demanded the highest level of craft; each animal was created from dozens of bricks that interlocked like a jigsaw. Yet this display of technical and artistic skill also served a ritual purpose, since the Gate provided a divinely protected entrance to the sacred inner city of Babylon.
A Wonder to Behold explores ancient Near Eastern ideas about the transformative power of materials and craftsmanship as they relate to the Ishtar Gate. This beautifully illustrated catalogue accompanies an exhibition at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. Essays by archaeologists, art historians, curators, conservators, and text specialists examine a wide variety of artifacts from major American and European institutions.