Ornamental Wall Painting in the Art of the Assyrian Empire. By PAULINE ALBENDA. Cuneiform Monographs, vol. 28. Leiden: BRILL/STYX, 2005. Pp. xiii + 148, illus. $135.
Pauline Albenda has performed a service to the study of Assyrian art by insisting upon the importance of painting as a significant category of artistic production (pp. 129-36). Building upon the cited works of Y. Tomabechi and A. Nunn, she gathers the known corpus (chapters one and two), devotes a full discussion to the best-known and most elaborate finds from the provincial Assyrian site of Til Barsip (chapter three), and then examines what she calls the "ornamental painted designs" by motif and compositional devices (chapter four). Throughout, she acknowledges the limited number of locations and finds preserved in the archaeological record, yet feels able to argue for a relative chronology of exempla, often based upon parallels with datable relief carvings and painted glazed ceramics, the repertoires of which have much in common with wall-paintings.
One of the principal contributions of this study is that the author has gone back to original field drawings and descriptions to correct or amend homogenization in restoration drawings (e.g., Pis. 9 and 10); another is that she brings to the discussion the importance of outline, design, and alternation of colors as part of the effect of the paintings, in order to stress the visual impact they would have made upon the viewer (pp. 75-81, 135). Albenda relies upon her own earlier work to stress aspects of symmetry in composition and the visual interplay it stimulates (e.g., pp. 82ff., 130). Particularly useful is her introduction of the less-well-known painting remains from Tell al-Rimah/Arana and Tell Sheikh Hammad/Dur Katlimmu into the more usual focus upon Nimrud and Til Barsip (pp. 75, 92-100, 129, 132) and her investigation of the possibility of continuities from earlier periods, via the Middle Assyrian Period painting fragments preserved at Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta (thirteenth c. B.C.E.) and those from Nuzi (fifteenth c. B.C.E.) (pp. 75-84, 129).
Quibbles that require further analysis are as follows:
Over-determination based upon single or limited samples (e.g., the contrast between Gordion and Til Barsip) to argue for a regional style (i.e., a black and white ornamental style as a North Syrian phenomenon during the seventh century B.C.E., p. 32), when other factors, such as taste and/or wealth, status, and function represented by the buildings...