Imperial Doors of Assyria: Monumentality, Spatiality, and Rituality of the Neo-Assyrian Architectural Doors From Balawat

by Yan Jia

Institution: Harvard University
Degree: PhD
Year: 2015
Keywords: Art History; Anthropology, Cultural
Record ID: 2062119
Full text PDF: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:14226073


The present dissertation, titled "Imperial Doors of Assyria," aims to examine the artistic form and cultural value of Neo-Assyrian architectural doors as highlighted by the three concepts of monumentality, spatiality, and rituality, using the three bronze-banded wooden doors from Balawat as a case study. Having introduced the materials and questions to be raised in this dissertation in the introductory Chapter I, Chapter II on the "monumentality" of the Balawat doors explores the commemorative value of the Balawat doors respectively through material, image and text. The scale and material was the "vehicle of conveyance" for monumentality. The commemorative value of the Balawat doors as Assyrian imperial monuments lies also in their ability to tell stories through historical narrative relief imagery on decorative bronze bands, and cuneiform texts accompanying the reliefs. Chapter III on "spatiality" engages with a spatial reading of the door-band programs, and argues for a "spatial schema" governing the historical narrative on both the closed and the open door. When closed, the program reflects a "center  – periphery" schema, implying a political order between the Assyrian king and his conquered lands; when open, it changes into an "inside  – outside" schema, indicating an ideological order between the god, the people, and the king in-between as an intermediary connecting the two. Either way, the "spatial schema" encapsulates the essence of a clearly Assyrian-oriented world order, with the king always at the center/inside as the maintainer of such order. Chapter IV on "rituality" examines how the monumental doors interacted with people, and how the monumental space was then transformed into a "ritual place." Owing to the architectural function and commemorative value of the Balawat doors, their "rituality" lies in both their constructive roles of ritual events enacted at the doors, and reflective roles of ritual activities depicted on the doors. These two aspects would have cooperated and interacted with each other, and constitute a self-referential system which then reinforces the effectiveness of the ritually-meaningful images on the door. The final Chapter V concludes by highlighting the case of the Balawat doors as an important disclosure of the rules that manifested the syntax of the artistic, architectural, and social expressions of imperial Assyria. As visual metaphors for the Assyrian proto-imperial system, the door-band decorative programs demonstrate the ambitious world view of an expanding territorial state, soon to become one of the strongest empires in the ancient world.