Painting a Head Study - Buy Online Demo Video Now!

Max Ginsburg Head Study Demo Video
Available for purchase ONLINE now -
stream or direct download!
Watch trailer below for a brief snippet from the video!
Buy Now from - $30

In this one and a half hour video Max Ginsburg paints a head study portrait from life and explains his procedure as he is painting. On a blank canvas he starts painting the model with a loose wash painting to establish the basic shapes and proportions. Then with skillful brush painting and very careful observation of the model he develops the forms of lights and darks.

In addition to his poetic color and unique artistic form, he captures the singular character and expression of the sitter. Ginsburg's paintings are reminiscent of and inspired by the Old Masters.

Max Ginsburg (b. 1931) has exhibited his fine art since 1953 to the present and has taught art for over 60 years. His paintings are in many museums and private collections including the Butler Institute of American Art, the New Britain Museum, the Washington County Museum of Fine Art, the Society of Illustrators Museum, the Salmagundi Club, and other public institutions. His illustration career from 1980 to 2004 for clients such as New York Times Magazine and HarperCollins Publishers was decorated by awards from the Society of Illustrators, Allied Artists of America, Romance Writers of America, and many more. 

He has taught at the Art Students League of N.Y. (2008-Present), the School of Visual Arts (NYC) (1984-2000), and the High School of Art and Design (NYC) (1960-1982), and has given many painting from life workshops around the USA and abroad. His book, "Max Ginsburg: Retrospective," was published in 2011.

Recent exhibitions and awards:
2020 - GOLD MEDAL, The Portrait Society of America
2017 - Solo Exhibition, FEI Art Museum, Yokohama, Japan
2017 - Solo Exhibition, Florence Academy Of Art, U.S.
2016 - Solo Exhibition, Highline Loft Gallery, NYC
2015 - The William Draper GRAND PRIZE at The Portrait Society of America
2014 - Solo Exhibition, ArtRage Gallery in Syracuse, NY
2013 - Gold Medal Award, California Art Club, CA
2011 - BEST IN SHOW at ARC, The Art Renewal Center, International Salon
2011 - Retrospective Solo Exhibition, The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH
2011 - Retrospective Solo Exhibition, The Salmagundi Club, New York, N.Y.

For more details please visit
Instagram: @ginsburg.max
Copyright © Max Ginsburg 2020


Some Notes and a Video About Anasazi Art

When I first shared this I wasn't aware that there is a movement/debate to change the term "Anasazi" to "Ancestral Puebloan." I shared this in response to some of my students asking for more non-Western art and I thought it might be a good resource here.

To get a better understanding of some of the naming debate please read these articles:

Anasazi Culture 500 CE - 1600 CE

Navajo culture 

Hopi Culture




According to the Brittanica Encyclopedia the Anasazi culture was a,
a North American civilization that developed from about AD 100 to modern times, centring generally on the area where the boundaries of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah intersect. (Anasazi is Navajo for "Ancient Ones.") It is customarily divided into these developmental periods: Basket Maker period, 100-500; Modified Basket Maker period, 500-700; Developmental Pueblo period (formerly designated Pueblo I and II), 700-1050; Classic Pueblo (formerly designated Pueblo III), 1050-1300; Regressive Pueblo (formerly designated Pueblo IV), 1300-1700; and Modern Pueblo (formerly designated Pueblo V), 1700 to date.

The origin of the Basket Maker Indians is not known, but it is evident that, when they first settled in the area, they were already excellent basket weavers and that they were supplementing hunting and wild-seed gathering with the cultivation of maize and pumpkins. They lived either in caves or out in the open in shelters constructed of a masonry of poles and adobe mud. Both caves and houses contained special pits, often roofed over, that were used for food storage.

This basic pattern continued into the period of the Modified Basket Makers, when agriculture became their major interest (bean crops were added and turkeys were domesticated) and hunting and gathering were reduced to supplementary roles. Villages remained either in caves or out in the open; but those in caves consisted of an array of semisubterranean houses, and those in the open consisted of chambers both aboveground and belowground, all often contiguously joined in straight lines or crescents. Aboveground chambers probably served as storage places and the pit houses as domiciles and ceremonial rooms. These pit houses were actually elaborations of the old storage pits. Sun-dried pottery was introduced during this period.

During the Developmental Pueblo period, the same type of straight-line or crescent-shaped multiple house was built, but gradually enlarged. Stone masonry, too, began to replace the earlier pole-and-mud construction. The pit houses became kivas, the underground circular chambers used henceforth primarily for ceremonial purposes. Aboveground chambers were used wholly as domiciles. Agriculture may have been augmented at this time by the cultivation of cotton. Pottery assumed a greater variety of shapes, finishes, and decorations. Basketry was less-common. Throughout the period the area of occupation continued to expand.

The Classic Pueblo period was the time of the great cliff houses, the villages built in sheltered recesses in the faces of cliffs but otherwise differing little from the masonry or adobe houses and villages built elsewhere. This was also the time of the large, freestanding, apartment-like structures built along canyons or mesa walls. In either locale, many dwellings consisted of two, three, or even four stories, often built in stepped-back fashion so that the roofs of the lower rooms served as porches for the rooms above. These community structures had from 20 to as many as 1,000 rooms. An actual shrinking of the inhabited areas took place as people of the outer fringes moved in to build the large units. Craftsmanship in pottery reached a high level, and cotton and yucca fibre were skillfully woven.

Abandonment of the cliff houses and large community dwellings marked the close of the Classic Pueblo period. In part this may have resulted from the incursion of nomadic Navajo and Apache from the north and a prolonged drought that occurred from 1276 to 1299.

The Regressive Pueblo period was characterized by movement of the people south and east, some to the Rio Grande valley or the White Mountains of Arizona. New villages, some larger than those of Classic Pueblo, were built but were generally poorer and cruder in layout and construction (sometimes walls consisted wholly of adobe). Fine pottery making still flourished, however, though changed in design, and weaving continued as before.

The Modern Pueblo period is usually dated from about 1700, when Spanish influences first began to be pervasive. Official Spanish occupancy of the area had begun in 1598, but the Spaniards' attempts at forced religious conversions and tribute caused hostility among the Indians, leading in 1680 to open revolt and the killing or expulsion of the Spaniards. Not until about 1694 was Spanish authority reimposed. A century of unsettled conditions, however, had reduced the number of Pueblo settlements from about 70 or 80 to 25 or 30. Much of the culture and many of the skills in agriculture and crafts, nevertheless, have continued down to modern times.

Copyright © 1994-2001 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Keet Seel ruins
Cliff Dwellings
1300 CE - 1500 CE
SW United States
Anasazi Culture
Classic Pueblo Period

Courses on Udemy:

Ruins at Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona
circa 1100 CE
SW United States
Anasazi Culture
Classic Pueblo Period

Form:  These ruins were once buildings that were built one on top of another into the side of  sandstone cliff.  Made of stone, adobe, and timber.  The placement shelters the structure from the brunt of the heat and is also highly defensible.

Iconography:  While probably not built as overt symbols of power, complexes such as Keet Seel and Mesa Verde represent a highly organized and cooperative civilizations.   As icons of the culture that created them and stand as fortresses against the dessert and against hostile invaders.  Today, for many Americans, these ruins have been adopted as symbols of Native American heritage.

Context:  Some structures, such as those at Keet Seel, were built over time.  The rooms were placed one on top of another possibly because the center rooms were filled in either with stored goods or debris or because more space was needed.  The Anasazi built dams to divert water and provide irrigation for crops and were highly organized.  Today some of the earlier research concerning the Anasazi (some based on excavations of trash pits is being reexamined refuted.

According to the Brittanica,

prehistoric house of the Pueblo Indians of the southwestern United States, built along the sides or under the overhangs of cliffs, primarily in the area where the present-day states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah meet. Such masonry cliff dwellings are associated with the Classic Pueblo, or Pueblo III, cultural period after which the Pueblo moved farther south and built the pueblo villages that they still inhabit.

The ancestors of the Pueblos were nomadic Indians of the Basket Maker culture. When they became sedentary and began to cultivate corn, they also began to build circular pits as storage bins. When the bins were later reinforced with stone walls and covered with roofs, some Indians began to use these enclosures as houses. Finally, the Indians became proficient enough in the dry farming required in this arid climate to live completely from the corn (maize), squash, beans, and cotton they grew and to establish permanent communities. At that point they began to build their houses above ground.

The cliff dwellings are the culmination of this architectural development; the use of hand-hewn stone building blocks (the principal construction material) and adobe mortar was unexcelled even in later buildings. Ceilings were built by laying two or more large crossbeams and placing on them a solid line of laths made of smaller branches. The layers were then plastered over with the same adobe mixture frequently used for the walls. Edifices several stories high were built with succeeding stories set back, creating a row of terraces on each level that gives the structure the appearance of a ziggurat (ancient Babylonian temple tower).

Residential rooms measured about 10 by 20 feet (3 by 6 metres). Entrance to ground-floor rooms was by ladder through a hole in the ceiling; rooms on upper floors could be entered both by doorways from adjoining rooms and by a hole in the ceiling. Each community had two or more kivas (see kiva), or ceremonial rooms, usually round in early times but later square.

It is thought that the Pueblo Indians began to build these cliff dwellings in about AD 1000, as a defense against northern tribes of Navajo and Apache, who were invading their territory. In addition to the natural protection of the cliff, the absence of doors and windows to the rooms on the ground floor left a solid outer stone wall that could be surmounted only by climbing a ladder, and the ladders could easily be removed if the town were attacked. Many smaller communities joined together to form the large towns built beneath the cliffs. Two of the largest, the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and the five-storied Pueblo Bonito in New Mexico, probably had about 200 and 800 residential rooms, respectively.

At the end of the 13th century, these cliff dwellings were deserted by the inhabitants. Two factors account for the move: an examination of tree trunks indicates a severe drought between 1272 and 1299; and it is thought that there was internal dissension between tribes in these large urban cliff pueblos. Thus, smaller pueblos were created in the south near better water sources.

Copyright © 1994-2001 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

These Anasazi ruins are thought to be the prototypes for the modern day Navajo and Hopi people's adobe Pueblos that are not built into cliffs.  Renown art historian Ernst Gombrich developed a theory to explain these adaptations and changes and refered to it as schema and correction.  If we were to look at the Anasazi culture's art and architecture as the plan or schema, we can see how the later Navajo and Hopi cultures might have taken Anasazi art as its schema and updated it in order to make the designs more pleasing according to the  later tastes.  These changes are referred to as the correction.

Another look at schema and correction:

Summary of Gombrich

To understand his theory called "schema and naturalization," or "schema and correction." To understand it you basically just need to know the definitions of three words. 

  • Schema is the cultural code through which individuals raised in a culture perceive the world. For example, we recognize stick figures to be humans.
  • Correction is where you take that schema and you compare it to what your senses tell you about the world and then you make it more accurate.
  • Mimesis is the process of correcting your schema.
Gombrich's idea can be expanded to looking how later groups can take the eralier work of art and mimic it (mimesis).  This is a kind of Darwinian theory kind of like Darwin's theory of the "survival of the fitest."

Read some stuff by Gombrich if it interests you!


Pueblo Bonito
Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
900 CE - 1250 CE
SW United States
Anasazi Culture
Aerial view of Pueblo Bonito from the north. 
[Copyright David L. Grill]
SW United States
Anasazi Culture
Classic Pueblo Period

According to the Brittanica,

formerly CHACO CANYON NATIONAL MONUMENT, national historical park in northwestern New Mexico, U.S. It is situated 45 miles (72 km) south of Bloomfield. It was established in 1907 as a national monument and was redesignated and renamed in 1980. It occupies an area of 53 square miles (137 square km), which consists of a canyon dissected by the Chaco and Gallo washes. It contains 13 major pre-Columbian Indian ruins and more than 300 smaller archaeological sites representing high points in Pueblo cultures. Pueblo Bonito (built in the 10th century), the largest and most completely excavated Pueblo site, contained about 800 rooms and 32 kivas (underground ceremonial chambers). The excavations indicate that the people excelled in toolmaking, weaving, pottery, farming, and masonry. Artifacts are displayed at the visitor centre.

Copyright © 1994-2001 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.


Petroglyph near the top of Fajada Butte. It is 24 cm by 36 cm and located about 10 m west of the three slab Sun Dagger site (see Sofaer et al. 1979). A, B, C & D indicate features of Pueblo Bonito, shown in the ground plan below.
Classic Pueblo period

Kivas at Pueblo Bonito
Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
900 CE - 1250 CE
SW United States
Anasazi Culture
Classic Pueblo period

Kiva painting from Kuana Pueblo Bonito
1300 CE - 1500 CE
SW United States
Anasazi Culture
Classic Pueblo period


Form:  The overall plan of Pueblo Bonito is shaped like the letter "D".  The structure were built out of wood, adobe, and stone.  The masonry was constructed by making a core of stones and mortar that was then faced with ashlars. (Ashlars are alternating rows of masonry that look similar modern day brick work.) The round structures in the center of the Pueblo are large subterranean buildings that would have originally been covered with logs of  pine to create an "igloo" like structure of timbers. 

Iconography:  The overall shape and or plan of Pueblo Bonito might be symbolic of the cultures relationship to the astral bodies, this matter is still hotly debated.  The kivas were used as subterranean temples.  By descending into the Kiva through the roof at the top the individual may have been going back into the "mother" earth.  Therefore worship inside and the ascension out of the kiva may symbolize spiritual rebirth.  (Keep this in mind when you look at the architecture of the Northwest Coasts' houses.)  The circular form may be a symbol of natural cycles or eternity.  Stokstad refers to the Kivas' iconography as making reference to the "navel of the earth." 

Context:  Pueblo Bonito was built over the ruins of an earlier site and seems to have been planned and constructed as an over all cohesive complex.  It was built in 25 to 40 years and was probably used more as a ceremonial center for the Anasazi elite rather than as a pragmatic living and defensive structure.  Many of these conclusions are based on recent study of the petroglyph at left, the relationship of the structures to the sun and stars, and the study other Anasazi structures across the Southwestern US. 

The petroglyph appears to relate to the overall structure of the pueblo and its relationship to the sun and stars.  At certain points during the seasons the pueblos walls line up with the passage of the sun in a similar way to the petroglyph at left. Recent excavations of the site has also lead researchers to some interesting but highly suspect conclusions.

The lack of certain debris in the trash pits at Pueblo Bonito have caused some historians to believe that the pueblo was not not occupied full time.  Other archaeologists have discovered human remains in some of the pits with markings or gashes on the bones that may indicate ritual sacrifice or even possibly ritual cannibalism.  Nevertheless, these observations and conclusions are still open to argument.

The existence of the site's many kivas and the ritualized destruction of the kivas by burning have lead to the following conclusions.  The site was used mainly for ritual and for some reason, possibly religious in nature, the site was abandoned some time in the middle of the twelfth century.  Based on observations of contemporary Native American rituals historians believe that only men were allowed into the kivas. 

According to the Brittanica kivas are,

subterranean ceremonial and social chamber found in the Pueblo American Indian villages of the southwestern United States, particularly notable for the colourful mural paintings decorating the walls.

Because the kiva is related to the family origins of the tribe and because two or more tribal clans always inhabit a Pueblo community (see pueblo), there are always at least two kivas per village.

A small hole in the floor of the kiva (sometimes carved through a plank of wood), called the sípapu, served as the symbolic place of origin of the tribe. Although its most important purpose is for ritual ceremonies, for which altars are erected, the kiva is also used for political meetings or casual gatherings of the men of the village. Women are almost always excluded from the kiva.

The traditional round slope of the earliest kiva, in contrast to the rest of Pueblo architecture, which is square or rectangular, recalls the circular pit houses of the prehistoric basket-weaving culture from which these tribes, primarily Hopi and Zuni, descend (see cliff dwelling).

The kiva murals depict sacred figures or scenes from the daily life of the tribe. The style of these paintings tends to be geometric, with an emphasis on straight rather than curved lines and with the entire mural laid out in a linear pattern around the walls. The murals are painted on adobe plaster with warm, colourful pigments made from the rich mineral deposits of the area. Frequently the Indians plastered over an old mural to paint a new one on top; in recent years the several layers of a number of kiva murals have been unpeeled and restored.

Copyright © 1994-2001 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

 A Kiva and its interior.


Anasazi Culture
Seed Jar circa 1250 CE
8" tall

Anasazi Jars
1125 CE - 1200 CE
SW United States
Anasazi Culture
Classic Pueblo period

Form:  The vessels are ceramic and made using the coil built technique.  Anasazi pottery is mainly geometric in design, but features naturalistic patterns as well.  The designs play with negative and positive space while enhancing the shape of the vessels.  These pots are an example of horror vacui.  They were made with the coil method.  This method consists of making a long snake like form out of clay and spiraling it around a hollow core.  The coils were then smoothed out.  The pots were then fired, probably in a pit, and glazed with a thin coating of watered down clay called slip or engobe.  The way in which all of the pots' surfaces have been covered with decorations and designs is referred to as horror vacui.  Horror Vacui is Latin a fear of empty space.

It is interesting to note that the style of decoration on the seed jars at left typifies many of the main qualities of Anasazi, Hopi and Navajo art.  The majority of the decorations are stylized in a geometric fashion, (designs based on geometric forms such as circles, squares and counterbalancing curves.)  The pots are also decorated with some naturally occurring repeating designs found in nature, such as wave forms, but, may also incorporate manmade things found in the environment such as block forms used in buildings.  

Some pots, such as the top most seed jar incorporate the naturalistic depiction of lizards (such as the three dimensional lizard handle on top) which is counterbalanced with the flat geometrically stylized painting of the lizard on the bottom of the jar.  

Iconography:  Based on contemporary Navajo interpretations, here is a chart that may describe what each pattern means.


Border Patterns are used by weavers and silversmiths to establish boundaries and as designs in their own right.  The Hopi silversmiths, especially, have made great use of these foreground/background patterns in their overly jewelry. Many of the recurring spirals and whorls are connected with bean sprouts, life springing out, cycles of life, and eternal renewal.  We call this one "Greek key".
Border Pattern, Spirals, whirlwinds, renewal, water
Border Pattern, kiva steps, or Clouds, direction and change
Border Pattern, Waves, spirals, water and cycles, life and renewal

Context:  These pots are called seed jars because they were used to contain seeds.   The pots were suspended from the roof poles by leather thongs to thwart rodents.  The lizard on top of the jars may serve a protecting function since some lizards eat rodents.

Women made the pottery in the Anasazi culture.  The iconography of the pottery is probably based on the immediate environment the potters experienced. 

Some iconographic symbols from the modern day Navajo culture which will help you to understand the next section.


Navajo Yeii Spirit, is a depiction of a spirit considered by the Navajo to be a go-between between man and the creator.  Yeiis control natural forces in and on the earth, such as day and night, rain, wind, sun, etc.  A very special kind of yeii is the Yei'bi'chai, grandparent spirit or "talking God" who can speak with man, telling him how to live in harmony with all living things by following a few rules of behavior and using only the basic things he needs to survive.  A symbol of the harmony acheived is the "Rainbow Man", a yeii controlling the rainbow, who gives beauty to those in harmony.
The Hand, represents the presence of man, his work, his acheivements, his legacy.  It also represents the direction of the creative spirit through a man, as a vessel for the Creators power. 

(Pay attention to this symbol because you will see it again in Paleothic Cave paintings).

Feathers, depicted in many, many ways, are symbols of prayers, marks of honor or sources of ideas.  They represent the Creative Force, and are taken from birds connected with the attribute for which they might be utilized: goose flight feathers to fledge an arrow because of the long flights of the geese; Eagle feathers for honor or to connect the user with the Creator, Turkey feathers to decorate a kachina mask. As design elements, they may appear plain, banded, barred, or decorated.
Pahos or Prayer Sticks, are carefully notched and painted cottonwood or cedar sticks with specific feathers attached to catch the wind.  They are planted in the ground at religious sites, and at springs to carry specific prayers to the Creator or to the Kachinas.  Their forms are found in many Pueblo and Navajo designs.


Kiva painting from Kuana Pueblo Bonito
1300 CE - 1500 CE
SW United States
Anasazi Culture
Classic Pueblo period

Courses on Udemy:
What's UP in our Community?

SAVE THE DATE:  AUGUST 1, 7 - 8:30pm WENDY HARRIS VIRTUAL STUDIO SHOW & SALE.  URL will be provided that date & on You MUST go to the artist's website and add your email to the link at the bottom of the landing page or stealthy spam blockers will prevent it. Additional sales opportunities:  he Shoppes at Johnny Appleseed, 3402 Old State Rd, Erieville, NY 13061  Wednesday through Sunday : With masks! and  Delavan Center Studio Gallery open by appointment with masks & distance.  Short notice often can work: 315-727-6577
Jubilee Homes 33rd Anniversary Fundraiser. For the week of 8/2-8/8, Salt City Market will be taking a break from our regularly scheduled Curbside Test Kitchen to support the Jubilee Homes of Syracuse, Inc.’s 33rd Anniversary Fundraiser! This event will honor the late Kristina Kirby, Fiscal Manager/Urban Delights Manager for Jubilee Homes. Wednesday, August 5 featuring SOULutions, Miss Prissy’s, Erma’s Island, and Cake Bar—pickup and delivery 3-6 PM at 112 Bellevue Avenue. Tickets are on sale until tomorrow (7/29), so get yours now!

Submit images to The Stand’s Annual Photo Contest before the deadline is up on July 31st!  This summer's event will be different. We won’t gather in person due to the pandemic, but photographers can still document our city in photos. Open citywide – to continue to capture Syracuse neighborhoods in photos, especially during this unique moment in time. Participants may enter up to two photos in each of our five categories (a maximum of 10 photos per person) and a panel of local judges will pick top winners — plus there will be prizes. Final images will be shared with the community online, featured in The Stand’s September print issue and even exhibited downtown — projected onto the Everson Museum of Art thanks to a partnership with the Urban Video Project (UVP)
Contest Categories Include:
   •  #CuseSummer2020 -- A shot that best captures this new normal — new now — for the city of Syracuse.
   •  #CuseCOVIDchildhood -- A shot showing our city's youth -- from coping with our current crisis to enjoying childhood innocence.
   •  #CuseSocialDistancing -- A shot displaying creative ways the city and its residents continue on safely.
   •  #CuseMinorityImpact -- Studies show this virus impacts Blacks and minorities disproportionately, how can this reality be visualized?
   •  #CuseBLM -- Nationwide racism is being called out. How is Syracuse pushing for progress?

Edgewood Gallery exhibit, HORSES AND HORIZONS, a collaboration between Jim Ridlon and Alyson Markell with ceramic work by Leslie Green Guilbault and Susan Machamer's jewelry. The show runs through August 7th. Tues-Fri 9:30am-6pm and Sat 10am-2pm. Due to social restrictions there will be no opening reception. 
Please wear your masks, if the gallery has people in it, wait in your car to respect social distancing. Masks , gloves, disinfectant are available in the gallery. Custom picture framing at Edgewood has resumed. 216 Tecumseh Rd., Syracuse, NY 13224.

The EVERSON Museum is re-opening! August 1st for members & Augusat 2nd for everyone! UPDATED MUSEUM HOURS: THURSDAY: NOON - 8PM, FRIDAY - SUNDAY: NOON - 5PM, Hours for Members and high-risk individuals: Friday and Saturday: 10:00am – Noon For more info visit

Saturday, 11:30-2pm - Major Rally - Does Black Life Matter? Syracuse City Hall (233 E. Washington St.) Share the Facebook event page (created by the Black Leadership Coalition)
On the Black Lives Matter facebook page is the complete list of demands that the Peoples Agenda for Policing put before the Mayor, his administration, and the Superintendant of SCSD schools. SATURDAY AUGUST 1, 2020 at 11:30am in front of City Hall  (we are starting right at noon) If Black Lives Matter to you, be there to show your support and bring everyone with you!

TOMORROW. Wednesday, July 29, from 5-7pmVirtual Teach-In on Police-Free Schools. Share the Facebook event page
Join Youth Cuse BLM, Raha Syracuse, The People’s Agenda for Policing collective and the youth of Syracuse in demanding the removal of Security Resource Officers (SROs) from our schools. Panelists Yusuf Abdul Qadir, Jessica Elliot, Sarhia Rahim, Afiya Rahman, Amina Salahou, and Nikeeta Slade will discuss the demand to cancel the SRO contract with the Syracuse City School District and reallocation of funds to culturally competent mental health counselors, community intervention workers, and a curriculum that reflects Black, indigenous, and people of color histories and stories. This will be on zoom and facebook live; zoom link to be announced later on the event page.

Galleryannouncements mailing list
To unsubscribe, follow this link and scroll to the bottom of the page: 


The Art of the Ancient Near East

Fertile Crescent

Copper Age     5000 BCE - 3000 BCE
Bronze Age     3000 BCE - 1400 BCE
Iron Age     1400 BCE - 1 CE

For all the videos in order with a textbook and study guides please visit:

Plaster Skulls
7000 BCE
Form:  The skulls of people were separated from their bodies and covered over with plaster.  They were sculpted to look like a  person before he or she had died.  The eyes were then inlayed with shells and hair was painted onto the head and sometimes face in the case of a man having a mustache.Iconography:  They may have been icons of ancestors and used as fetish objects.  They may also be an icon of the people of Jericho's belief in an afterlife.  They were an icon of wisdom because they were consulted on serious matters.
Context:  These heads mark the beginning of larger sculpture in the Near East.  They were found under the floors of the houses in Jericho and were supposedly looked to for values and wisdom.

Catal Huyuk
6,500 BCE - 5,700 BCE
Anatolia, Turkey
Form:  This city has no streets.  The buildings are all attached and the entrances to the rooms were on the ceiling.  The houses were made of timber frames and mud brick, the insides were plastered.  There were platforms along the walls and shrines in many of the houses.  In these shrines were bulls horns, plastered breasts, wall paintings and animal heads.Iconography:  The plaster breasts found in the shrines are symbols of fertility and the bulls horns also found in the shrines are symbols of virility.  The style that the city was built in is iconographic of the need of the people for protection.  The shrines and dead people are an icon of the heavy influence of religion and possible ancestor worship.
Context:  Catal Huyuk's wealth was in the trade of obsidian which was a stone that was very useful in the making of weapons because it could easily be made into a sharp point.  The buildings being attached, with no doors or windows, formed a very protective outer wall that allowed the people to better protect themselves.  The ceiling entrance also provided the rooms with chimneys that allowed the smoke from the fire to escape.  The houses were all of similar construction even though there sizes vary.  The platforms in the houses were used to perform the days activities and to sleep upon at night.  Dead people were buried beneath the floors and shrines were in one out of three houses.

Cuneiform Writing
Process:  Developed around 3100 BCE, it was original an accounting system.  They started as pictographs, simple pictures, that were carved into damp clay.  Between 2900 BCE and 2400 BCE they developed into phonograms, representations of syllable sounds.  At the same time scribes, the people who wrote the text, began using a stylus, pictured on the bottom left.  This instrument is pushed into damp clay rapidly to form the characters in the diagram.  The illustration on the top left shows the development of the language from pictographs to later cuneiform signs.  Not many people were literate during this time.

Early Cuneiform Tablet (left)
Later Cuneiform Tablet (right)
both approximately 3"x5"
- made of clay.

Stele of Hammurabi
1780 BCE
Susa, Iran
Form:  The Stele depicts Hammurabi on the right and the sun god, Shamash on the left.  Shamash is handing the measuring rod to Hammurabi.  It is made of black basalt and has a picture on the top and writing on the bottom.  The figures are in composite view.  In a composite view, the face, feet and arms are in profile but the torso is depicted in the frontal view.  Sometimes the eyes are a frontal view although the face is in profile. Iconography:  The three steps upon which the god rests his feet are iconographic of this meeting taking place on a mountain top.  The larger seated figure is the god Shamash.  (The use of size to indicate importance is referred to by Stokstad as hieratic scale.)  Both Shamash’s size and the flames surrounding his represent his larger than life divine status.  The flames surrounding his head are icons of his role as god of light or enlightenment and they symbolize power and ideas in much the same way our comic books represent figures with a lighbulb above their heads to represent a good idea.  This meeting is symbolic of Hammurabi’s divine right to rule and pass judgment.  Shamash hands over a staff of rule or rod.  This represents Hammurabi’s divine right to act as Shamash’s earthly representative.
Context:  This is a stele that was used to ensure even treatment of people throughout the kingdom.  The punishments were set in stone so that there could be no confusion as to how to deal with a situation.  The punishment varied depending upon race, wealthy, and class.  It was one of the first documents that we have that described a legal system.

Ziggurat of King Ur-Nammu 2100 BCE
mud brick with facing of red fired clay, each level 25' to 50'
Ur, Iraq
SumerianForm:  Overall the temple is built in two levels entirely of mud brick: in the lower level the bricks are joined together with bitumen, in the top level they are joined with mortar.
According to the Brittanica, "The ziggurat was always built with a core of mud brick and an exterior covered with baked brick. It had no internal chambers and was usually square or rectangular, averaging either 170 feet square or 125  170 feet (40  50 metres) at the base. Approximately 25 ziggurats are known, being equally divided in number among Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria."  The walls angle slightly outward and there are three staircases of one hundred steps each.
Iconography:  Ziggurats symbolize a connection between the heavens and the earth.  The monumental size and shape suggest that ziggurats are a type of man-made mountain.  In many cultures, religious leaders and figures often ascend mountains as a means to connect with a god or goddess.  In the ancient Greek faith there was Mount Olympus where the gods lived and in the Judeo Christian faith, Moses was given the tablets of the law on Mount Sinai.  Monuments of such a massive size most probably represent the power of the secular and religious rulers who commissioned them but in a more general sense they are also evidence of the organized cohesive nature of Mesopotamian civilization.
Context:  The temple was dedicated to the moon god Nanna and possibly used to communicate with him.  There used to be a temple at the very top of the ziggurat.  People would wait in the temple for the god to communicate with them.  The structure was used to intimidate enemies as well.  The shape of the ziggurat may have arisen from the building on top of older buildings until it found this height but this ziggurat did not find it's shape that way.  The walls were slanted probably to prevent rain water from ruining the brick work.
According to the Britannica,
No ziggurat is preserved to its original height. Ascent was by an exterior triple stairway or by a spiral ramp, but for almost half of the known ziggurats, no means of ascent has been discovered. The sloping sides and terraces were often landscaped with trees and shrubs (hence the Hanging Gardens of Babylon). The best-preserved ziggurat is at Ur (modern Tall al-Muqayyar). The largest, at Chogha Zanbil in Elam, is 335 feet (102 m) square and 80 feet (24 m) high and stands at less than half its estimated original height. The legendary Tower of Babel has been popularly associated with the ziggurat of the great temple of Marduk in Babylon.The city of Ur, modern Tall Al-muqayyar, or Tell El-muqayyar, important city of ancient southern Mesopotamia (Sumer), situated about 140 miles (225 km) southeast of the site of Babylon and about 10 miles (16 km) west of the present bed of the Euphrates River. In antiquity the river ran much closer to the city; the change in its course has left the ruins in a desert that once was irrigated and fertile land. The first serious excavations at Ur were made after World War I by H.R. Hall of the British Museum, and as a result a joint expedition was formed by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania that carried on the excavations under Leonard Woolley's directorship from 1922 until 1934. Almost every period of the city's lifetime has been illustrated by the discoveries, and knowledge of Mesopotamian history has been greatly enlarged.

Standard of Ur
2700 BCE
Ur, Iraq
Sumerian/MesopotamiaForm:  It is made of wood, shells and stone.  The Standard of Ur is broken up into the war side, middle left, and the peace side, top left.  The war side, on the bottom, features horse drawn chariots running over people.  In the middle, the prisoners have been captured and are being lead.  On the top, the prisoners have been striped naked and are being presented to a king figure.  He is the largest figure in the piece and he is also centered on the band.  On the bottom, of the peace side, men carry provisions.  In the middle they lead animals, and on the top a banquet takes place where the king figure is present again.  At this banquet there is a lyre player and a singer, they are shown in detail on the bottom left.
Iconography:  These pieces are iconographic of the morals of the culture.  Long hair is iconographic of a singer.  The hieratic scale and placement of the king figure are an icon of his power.  The standards are icons of peace and war.
Context:  Anthropologist Edmund Leach thinks that we see the world in a binary way so that is why they have the peace and war standards.  More meaning can be created, if it is used for demonstrative purposes, if there is something to compare an image against.  Scholars disagree as to weather the peace side banquet is a victory celebration or part of a cult ritual.

Sumerian Billy Goat and Tree from Ur
20" Tall
Wood, gold, lapis lazuli 
Form:  It is made out of wood, gold and lapps lazuli.  Great attention to detail has gone in to the making of this piece.  Each of the flowers have eight points and each little ruffle in the goats wool is depicted.Iconography:  Goats are symbols of fertility, power, and mans struggle with his animalistic side.  The tree may be a symbol for the tree of life.  The goat may also represent the fertility god Tammuz.
Context:  This is a tiny statue that was recovered at a royal burial site at Ur.  This statue is part of a pair that were found, both were crushed.  They may have been used as supports for an offering table.

Lyre of Queen Puabi
(Bull Lyre from the
tomb of
King Abargi)
2700 BCE
Ur, Iraq
Form:  This is a musical instrument that is made of wood, gold, lapis lazuli. and shell.  The head of the bull is very naturalistic despite the beard.  The top register of inlayed shell, directly beneath the bulls beard, depicts an athletic man holding two bulls with human faces.  The second register shows animals, walking like men, bringing food for a feast.  The third register shows the animals making music.  Finally, the fourth register shows a scorpion man being offered cups from a gazelle.Iconography:  The panels on the Lyre are iconographic of the humanization of animals.  It is iconographic of the after life and the animals might be icons of the ones that guard the gate to heaven.  It is a symbol of death because it was played at Queen Puabi's funeral.
Context:  Harps like this one were used in the funerary rights of the dead person and then buried with them.  There were songs that were chanted during these burials and copies of them have been found on cuneiform tablets.  The theme of this piece is the civilization of our wild nature.  See Summary of the Epic of Gilgamesh
The title of this work is open to a bit of debate.  Gardener's Art Through the Ages refers to this work as the "Bull headed lyre from the tomb of Puabi, Royal cemetery."  Stokstad refers to it as "Bull Lyre from the tomb of King Abargi."  You may use either one.

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin
2300 BCE
limestone 6'6"
Susa, Iran
Form:  This is a low relief carving on limestone. The figures are all in composite form.Iconography:  Proportionately the main figure of the king Naram Sin is exaggerated to emphasize his status.   When a figure's scale is emphasized in this manner it is referred to as hieratic scale.  (You will also see this in Egyptian art.  Naram-Sins helmet is adorned with bull horns.  Since bulls are powerful and virile creatures the horns are associated with his physical power as warrior. horns on his head are also an icon for power and virility, also symbols of a king.  The stars or sun in the right hand corner are symbols of divine support.  He's also holding a newer kind of weapon in his left hand called a composite bow which could also represent the Akkadian armies innovative battle technology.
Context:  This commemorates Naram Sin's defeat of the Lullubi.  It is inscribed twice, once in honor of this event and again when it was taken as booty when someone captured the city where it stood.
"Originally this stele was erected in the town of Sippar, centre of the cult of the Sun god, to the north of Babylon. lt was taken as booty to Susa by an Elamite king in the 12th century BC. lt illustrates the victory over the mountain people of western lran by Naram-Sin, 4th king of the Semite dynasty of Akkad, who claimed to be the universal monarch and was deified during his lifetime. He had himself depicted climbing the mountain at the head of his troops. His helmet bears the horns emblematic of divine power. Although it is worn, his face is expressive of the ideal human conqueror, a convention imposed on artists by the monarchy. The king tramples on the bodies of his enemies at the foot of a peak; above it the solar disk figures several times, and the king pays homage to it for his victory." - Louvre 
Head of an Akkadian Ruler
(Sargon of Akkad?)
bronze 12" 2200 BCE

Head of an Akkadian Ruler
(Sargon of Akkad?)
2200 BCE
Nineveh, Iraq
Form:  Made from bronze, this portrait head was probably part of a larger work.  Perhaps a full figure.  The shape and proportions of the face and head are naturalistic but the shape and texture of the eyebrows and hair are stylized in a geometric fashion.  Other stylizations or distortions occur in the exaggerated size of his eyes and nose.  These stylizations and exaggerations are attempts to idealizethis ruler and make him more handsome or beautiful than he probably was according to the ideals of physical perfection in the ancient near east. Iconography:  In most cultures, beauty and goodness are equated as being one in the same thing.  Certainly the cultures of Mesopotamia felt this way as well.  Therefore the portraits beauty is also equated with Sargon's inner beauty and or virtue.  His "virtuous" nature is symbolically enhanced by his beard.  Beards are icons of wisdom and because in order to grow a beard one needs to have matured to appoint beyond childhood.  (This same idea is evidenced in several versions of the Arthurian legends in which although King Arthur was able to pull the sword from the stone, his brothers still refer to him as "beardless"  and therefore too inexperienced or young to rule.
Context:  This statue is not in its original state.  This head was once part of a complete statue that was vandalized.  The ears were mutilated, the eyes gouged out, and the ears and part of the beard broken off.  It has been vandalized (literally defaced) in order to dishonor the ruler it once represented.  Originally the eyes in this head would have been inlayed with precious and semiprecious stones.
The tearing down of effigy monuments to symbolize the destruction or change in a regime is common to every era.  When US troops "liberated" Iraq in 2004 many of the statues of Sadam Hussein were either defaced or torn down from there pedestals.  In ancient Egypt, often older monuments constructed by previous pharaohs were recarved to resemble the newer rulers.

For all the videos in order with a textbook and study guides please visit:

Sargon the Great of Akkad is the first in a long (and possibly ever-extending) line of people whose life is driven by conquest. He was the first emperor of the world’s first empire. However, like most of the people who followed him, his empire didn’t last long.According to legend, Sargon’s mother was “changeling,” meaning a demon or a prostitute. He was probably born around 2350 BCE. He served as the cup-bearer of a king of the Sumerian city-state of Kish, but the king, sensing something divine in him, had Sargon killed. Sargon escaped the plot, rallied some tribesmen to his cause, and built a new city north of Sumer – Akkad. Sargon’s career has soared ever since. From Akkad, his armies blazed southward to conquer Sumer, Kish and all. From the Persian Gulf, he made a northwestward sweep to Lebanon.
The Akkadian Empire was a very wealthy empire; it derived its wealth not just from plunder but also from trade. Sumer was smack in the middle of the trade routes that connected the Indus Valley, Egypt, and Mediterranean civilizations. Akkad wasn’t actually the first city to enjoy the benefits of trade in the Mesopotamian region, and it wasn’t going to be the last.
Sargon tried to keep his empire in the hands of his sons, but his successors lacked Sargon’s power; the city-states of Sumer rebelled against Akkad, destroying the Akkadian Empire.

Statues from Tell Asmar
2,900 BCE - 2,600 BCE
made from painted gypsum
Tell Asmar, Iraq
SumerianForm:  The statues are made of gypsum and inlayed with shell and black limestone.  The men have long hair, beards, belts, and fringed skirts.  The women wear dresses that leave the right shoulder bare.  The eyes are exaggerated, while the hands are downplayed.
Iconography:  The figures are iconographic of real people not deities.  The large eyes may symbolize eternal wakefulness or the need to approach a god with an attentive gaze.  They are iconographic of the early religious practices of the Sumerians.
Context:  The were buried beneath the floor of a temple.  Donors may have commissioned these statues to be built in their image so that their prayers are forever being said to the gods.

Reconstruction of Statues from Tell Asmar
2,900 BCE - 2,600 BCE
made from painted gypsum
Tell Asmar, Iraq
Museum of Natural History, NYC
Web ArtLex n [ME bithumen mineral pitch, fr. L bitumin-, bitumen] (15c) 1: an asphalt of Asia Minor used in ancient times as a cement and mortar 2: any of various mixtures of hydrocarbons (as tar) often together with their nonmetallic derivatives that occur naturally or are obtained as residues after heat-refining natural substances (as petroleum); specif: such a mixture soluble in carbon disulfide -- n -- bi.tu.mi.nize vt
composite view     A view of the human body in Egyptian and Mesopotamian art in which several points of view of the human body are merged into one.  Often the figure is depicted with the head, legs and arms in a profile point of view while the torso of the figure is depicted in a frontal view.  The head which is depicted in a profile view often depicts the eyes in a frontal view.  This is especially so in Egyptian art but in Mesopotamian art it is less consistent.  The purpose of the this point of view is probably both symbolic and formal.  In terms of form, it is often easier to depict parts of the body in profile.  This is certainly so in prehistoric art. n, pl -gies [MF effigie, fr. L effigies, fr. effingere to form, fr. ex- + fingere to shape--more at dough] (1539): an image or representation esp. of a person; esp: a crude figure representing a hated person -- in effigy : publicly in the form of an effigy 
gyp.sum n [L, fr. Gk gypsos] (14c) 1: a widely distributed mineral consisting of hydrous calcium sulfate that is used esp. as a soil amendment and in making plaster of paris adj [ME ydeall, fr. LL idealis, fr. L idea] (15c) 1: existing as an archetypal idea 2 a: existing as a mental image or in fancy or imagination only; broadly: lacking practicality b: relating to or constituting mental images, ideas, or conceptions 3 a: of, relating to, or embodying an ideal b: conforming exactly to an ideal, law, or standard: perfect --compare real 2b(3) 4: of or relating to philosophical idealism ²ideal n (15c) 1: a standard of perfection, beauty, or excellence 2: one regarded as exemplifying an ideal and often taken as a model for imitation 3: an ultimate object or aim of endeavor: goal 4: a subset of a mathematical ring that is closed under addition and subtraction and contains the products of any given element of the subset with each element of the ring syn see model -- adj 
pro.file n [It profilo, fr. profilare to draw in outline, fr. pro- forward (fr. L) + filare to spin, fr. LL--more at file] (ca. 1656) 1: a representation of something in outline; esp: a human head or face represented or seen in a side view 2: an outline seen or represented in sharp relief: contour 3: a side or sectional elevation: as a: a drawing showing a vertical section of the ground b: a vertical section of a soil from the ground surface to the underlying unweathered material 4: a set of data often in graphic form portraying the significant features of something ; esp: a graph representing the extent to which an individual exhibits traits or abilities as determined by tests or ratings 5: a concise biographical sketch 6: degree or level of public exposure syn see outline ²profile vt pro.filed ; (1715) 1: to represent in profile or by a profile: produce (as by drawing, writing, or graphing) a profile of 2: to shape the outline of by passing a cutter around -- n 

For all the videos in order with a textbook and study guides please visit: