In textual and visual narratives space is often used to create a story or to convey a meaning. The art of the Middle and Neo-Assyrian Empire (ca. 1300-612 BC) offers an interesting case for studying the use of space in pictorial narratives as a firm element of the political propaganda. Hence, the aim of this research project was not to analyze space as an abstract compositional element of visual representations but as narrative element related to royal discourses and historical events.
The visual media in focus are the carved wall slabs (orthostasts) of the Assyrian palaces and the so-called obelisks which occur as single free-standing monuments in open spaces. The analysis of space in the narrative of these monuments is pursued in mainly three directions:
1. The spatial organization of the visual narrative with respect to the dimensions and space of the monument and with respect to the observer.
2. Landscape spaces (e.g. gardens) as a meaningful, rhetorical and/or symbolic motif in the royal narrative.
3. Types and positions of actors and their spatial relation as important structuring means of the narrative.
As most of the monuments also bear inscription, the intermediality of image and text forms another important aspect for all of these three analytic approaches. A diachronic perspective is applied in order to reveal the changes in the pictorial construction of space which, as it is being argued, continuously intertwines with historical development of the Assyrian state. As spatial representations are essentially considered to be an element of the narrative they also can be understood as a sort of meta-narrative that mediates between the changing historic reality and its idealized conception.
Preliminary results of the research were presented in several publications and at the following occasions:
- Topoi conference “Blickwinkel – Standpunkte. Perspektive und Perspektivität in Bild und Text“, organized by the research group (C-4) Pictorial Construction of Space in July 2014 with a talk on: “Das Ferne so nah: Gartendarstellungen auf assyrischen Wandreliefs”.
- Annual conference of the Excellence Cluster Topoi, November 2015. Title of the talk: “Rituelle Räume und Raumkognition in altorientalischen Bildern”.
- Retreat of research group (C-4) Pictorial Construction of Space in Potsdam in May 2016. Title of the talk: “Methodik und Theorie der historischen Interpretation von Raumkomposition und Narrativik in der assyrischen Bildkunst”.
Related Publications (Selection)
Dominik Bonatz, “The Spatialities of Ritual Representations in Middle Assyrian Art”, in: J. Mylonopoulos (Ed.), Materiality and Visibility of Rituals in the Ancient World, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2020
Dominik Bonatz and M. Heinz, “Representation”, in: Ann Gunter (Ed.), Companion to the Art of the Ancient Near East, Oxford – New York: Wiley Blackwell, 2018
Dominik Bonatz, “A Middle Assyrian Centaur from Tell Fekheriye”, in: Paola Ciafardoni and Deborah Giannessi (Eds.), From the Treasures of Syria. Essays on Art and Archaeology in Honour of Stefania Mazzoni, 2015, 153–162