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Detroit Institute of Arts Opens New Gallery Devoted to Ancient Middle Eastern Art
Snake-Dragon, Symbol of Marduk, the Patron God of Babylon. Panel from the Ishtar Gate, 604-562 BCE, unknown artist, glazed earthenware bricks. Detroit Institute of Arts.

DETROIT, MI.- The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) will open a new gallery devoted to the arts of the Ancient Middle East on Dec. 22 that will showcase the ancient cultural heritage of what we today call Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Yemen and Armenia.

A favorite with the public, the serpent/dragon panel from the Ishtar gate of Babylon, will be back on display. “Many visitors have asked what happened to our dragon,” said Graham W. J. Beal, DIA director. “We are happy to have Marduk’s serpent back on view, along with a selection of our most important objects in the Ancient Middle East collection.”

The panel from the Ishtar Gate with the symbol of Marduk, the patron god of Babylon, is joined by two stone wall-carvings from the Royal Palace at Nimrud, Iraq. One depicts an Assyrian eagle-headed god scraping sap from a sacred palm tree, and the other shows the Assyrian ruler Tiglath-Pileser III receiving homage. Such pieces were made to adorn palaces and communicate powerful messages about nationhood, political authority and legitimacy.

Among a display of pottery are some of the DIA’s oldest objects. A collar-necked jar from Anatolia (Turkey) painted with a geometric design is approximately 7000 years old. Two objects from Iran, a conical dish decorated with cheetahs and a footed cup painted with stags, are around 5000 years old. The colors, forms, patterns and images on such works were developed by potters to express symbolic ideas about their world.

Other objects include reliefs carved in limestone from the royal palace at Persepolis, Iran, showing court servants carrying items to a royal feast, and a head of a Persian spearman; alabaster burial stones from ancient Yemen; ceramics from ancient Anatolia; coins, glassware, and a silver spoon and dish from the Sasanian Empire in Iran; and a belt with reliefs of animals and winged gods from Urartu, a kingdom to which Armenians trace their ancestry.

The new gallery is centrally located in a basilica-like space that was subdivided for a variety of purposes during the past 30 years, including offices and storage space. This installation is the first phase of the new gallery, and is supported by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts with matching funds from the Ernest and Rosemarie Kanzler Foundation Fund. Further funding is being sought to complete subsequent installations.

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