Statuette of a standing nude goddess (detail). Babylon. Alabaster, gold, stucco, rubies, bitumen; H. 10 1/4 in.; 1st century B.C.–1st century A.D. Musée du Louvre, Paris (AO 20127)
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A Cultural Crossroads

”The World between Empires” presents the art of a region crisscrossed by trade routes, artistic commonalities, and distinct identities

A new exhibition at The Met presents a fascinating overview of the art of the ancient Middle East. Focusing on the four-century period between 100 B.C. and 250 A.D., The World between Empires explores a region situated between the Roman empire of the Mediterranean, and the Parthian empire of modern-day Iran.

Door lintel with lion-griffins and vase with lotus leaf. Hatra, Great Iwans. Limestone; H. 29 1/8 in., W. 66 1/2 in., D. 4 in.; ca. 2nd–early 3rd century. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1932 (32.145a, b)

 

Commercial links were a hallmark of the region, connecting its farthest-flung corners with cities thousands of miles away—and sending cultural influences in all directions. From the edge of Arabia, frankincense and myrrh arrived in ports throughout the Mediterranean; artisans of the region in turn were influenced by the naturalism of Hellenistic sculpture.

Rearing horse. Southwestern Arabia, possibly near Ghayman. Bronze; H. 40 3/16 in., W. 11 in., L. 41 3/4 in.; ca. 2nd century. Dumbarton Oaks Library and Museum, Washington, D.C. (DO 1938.12)

 

The ancient trading routes that came to be called the Silk Road enriched the cities between Parthia and Rome. Religious traditions coexisted—and occasionally converged—as polytheistic cultures adapted gods from other regions. Monotheistic communities were also a part of the landscape, as evidenced by the synagogue of Duro-Europos.

Rhyton in the form of a camel with four amphorae. Gerasa (modern Gerash). Terracotta, H. 9 13/16; 2nd century B.C. Department of Antiquities, Amman (J 1626)

Elephant capital. Petra, Great Temple, forecourt. Limestone; H. 16 9/16 in., W. 49 7/16 in., D. 29 1/2 in.; 1st century B.C.-early 1st century A.D. Department of Antiquities, Amman (J 7743)

 

This period encompassed the flourishing of some of the most famous cities of the ancient Middle East, including Nabatean Petra, Heliopolis-Baalbek, and Palmyra. Over the centuries, these extraordinary cities influenced the work of architects, archaeologists, and urban planners throughout the world. The art associated with such places bespeak the region’s rich heritage—one currently under beset by violent extremism, pollution, unsustainable tourism, and other stresses. Responses to such threats are a timely theme addressed in the exhibition.

Stele of a goddess (”Goddess of Hayyan”). Petra, Temple of the Winged Lions. Limestone, H. 12 3/4 in., W. 7 7/8 in., D. 4 7/8 in., 1st–2nd century. Department of Antiquities, Amman (JP 13483)

Cameo with Valerian and Shapur 1. Iran. Sardonyx; H. 2 11/16 in., W. 4 1/16 in., D 3/8 in.; ca. late 3rd century (after 260). Bibliothèque nationale de France, Cabinet des médailles, Paris (Camée 360)

 

The exhibition features some 190 objects from collections around the world—all beautifully illustrated in the 300-page catalogue published by The Met.

 

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