lunes, 23 de febrero de 2015

Pedro Azara & Marc Marín: Glam-Ur (From Ancient to Modern. Archaeology and Aesthetics)

Ésta es la versión original de uno de los textos del catálogo de la muestra From Ancient to Modern. Archaeology and Aesthetics (ISAW, Nueva, febrero-junio de 2015). 

Redactado inicialmente por Pedro Azara (beca "Salvador de Madariaga", Ministerio de Educación y Cultura,, 2014), como texto central de la exposición, una versión acortada y debidamente corregida y editada del mismo, firmada por Pedro Azara y Marc Marín, ha sido publicada en el catálogo de la muestra, editado por la Princeton University Press.


“When the artifacts are found
chiselled out, cleaned up and looked at again
as things of beauty

they are not lost
(never were lost)

what do we recognize?”

(GILDROY, Doreen: “From the Ancient World”, The American Poetry Review 43/3, May/June 2014, p. 25) 

The opening of the Parisian Quai Branly Museum, in 2006, followed years of acid and acerb discussions in the French academia. This huge museum institution, ill-designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, is located in a most problematic urban space in the heart of Paris: on the river Seine front, almost facing the Eiffel Tower. It holds the largest collection of artefacts from “primitive cultures” in the world. It was called at first the Musée des Arts Premiers, a double meaning expression that can be translated as Museum of the First Arts but also as Museum of the Fundamental Arts. The collection comes from two already existing museums that were dismantled entirely or almost entirely: the Musée National des Arts d´Afrique et d´Océanie, and part of the Musée de l´Homme. The first one was established for the Colonial Exhibition in Paris in 1931. It was holdings artefacts from the French colonies all around the world. The second one was keeping Prehistory finds and also “tribal” artefacts –coming from “primitive” cultures apart from the ones under the French colonial regime.
The Musée du Quai Branly keeps pre-Columbian, African (including some ethnographic material from the Islamic cultures of the north of Africa, while most of the Islamic arts are in the Louvre Museum in Paris), and Oceanic artefacts, as some Asiatic ones.  This means that there are no European collections, either ancient or modern. These belong to the Louvre Museum which is an “art” museum –in spite of holding medieval items or from “archaic” periods of culture such as Ancient Greece. The Quai Branly Museum, on the contrary, as the Musée Guimet that keeps most of the Asiatic collections, are (considered to be) ethnographic museums.

The discussion about the reasons for the creation of the Quai Branly Museum lasted for years. The Museum, as other previous National Museums in Paris since the founding of the Centre George Pompidou, was established and built following a presidential decision.
The name of the institution, and its orientation, was heavily criticized. What were the “first arts”? “Arts” from Palaeolithic or Neolithic times or cultures? No, as a part of the collected items have been handcrafted in the XXth century –but they are not shown in the Musée d´Art Moderne. Centre George Pompidou, nor in the Musée d´Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Some of the exhibited items are ancient, nevertheless, older even that some of the objects shown in the Louvre Museum. They are archaeological material. But archaeological material is shown in the Louvre Museum. The criteria for the division between archaeological materials between both museums are geographical. The Louvre Museum keeps “western” items –and “Islamic” ones due to its presence in European cultures and in the colonial world. The Louvre Museum holds only works of fine arts, and works of decorative arts. This means that non-European and non-Islamic items (at least partially in this case) are not works of art, but ethnographic material. It means too that western cultures have never had “first arts” or “primitive” arts, even early Mesopotamian artefacts. They were created since the beginning as works of art, or they are judged now as works of arts. The reason is because these items belong to western cultures.
 We have to say that these criteria are followed in Barcelona nowadays: a Museum of the Word Cultures has just opened at the end of 2014. It shows material from the “colonial” worlds, Spanish especially. Meanwhile, the western archaeological material, and “the primitives” –which means, in the western history of western art, late medieval artists- are shown either in the Archaeological Museum, or at the National Museum of Catalan Art. Again, these museums are considered keeping art –works of fine arts-, not tools or fetishes.
As these museums have been able to open and do not generate more discussions, as they have been accepted in the world of art, we have to deduce that artefacts from Mesopotamia belong to the realm of the works of art, in spite of having been created or handcrafted at the “dawn of history”, or even before the time of writing. What does this mean and imply? 
Mesopotamia has entered the history quite late, which means it has been discovered late by western historians. The first journeys to the East (from a Western point of view) after the fall of the Roman Empire began during the 9th century with Muslim geographers from the Cordoba (Hispanic Peninsula) caliphate on their way to La Mecca[1]. Some Christian adventurers since the 12th century decided to explore the Holy Land and to reach Mesopotamia. In all these journeys, nevertheless, Sumerian archaeological sites, in the south of Mesopotamia, were not visited. They were unknown, as they were not mentioned in the Bible and in the Quran, nor in Herodotus written texts. Only Babylon and Assyrian capitals had substantial ruins and could be remembered thanks to these texts.  
A continuous and long-termed visits, with the first excavations, began with ottoman and western “archaeologists” in the first part of the 19th century. Again, the north and centre of Mesopotamia were the first explored lands before the interest on the south began in the last decades of the 19th century.
Before the beginning of the 19th century, (western) antiquity comprised only Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures. Babylon, Assyria and Persia were known too –the German philosopher Hegel began his lessons of theory of art with his views on the origins of art, called symbolic art due to its huge and massive shapes incapable to suggest the presence of the spirit, which happened with Egyptian and Persian art and architecture-, but only through texts. Nothing was known about Sumerian art and architecture.
The Ottoman Empire constituted a problem for certain western countries. Colonies in India and in the Far East were difficultly reached due to limitations imposed by the Ottoman administrations to western travellers. The Crimea War was a first benefit solution. War began between the Russia and the Ottoman Empires for the control of the Crimean peninsula. Russia was militarily far in advance. In order to avoid the fall of the Ottomans, and the following chaos –which could have complicated even more journeys to the Basra[2] harbour from which boats to India were leaving-, western troops were sent to Turkey. Russia was defeated. Western troops remained in the country. It was the first good occasion to explore Assyrian capitals mentioned in the Bible. Two years later, a new war was declared between the Ottoman and the Persian empires. This time, western troops came to the border between both empires, to act in favour of Persia, in order to avoid the Ottoman to become too powerful. Again, troops remained after the war. They were in Mesopotamia. Explorations could began. But why is there any relationship between troops and archaeologists?
“In the year 1839-40 the hostilities that threatened to break out between Persia and Turkey owning to frontier disputes were avoided by the mediation of the Governments of Great Britain and Russia, with the result that commissioners nominated by the four Powers assembled Commission to delimitate the disputed boundary. Colonel Williams, R.A. [afterwards Sir W.F. Williams, the famous defender of Kars during the Crimean War] was the British representative, and to his staff a geologist was appointed, Mr [later, Sir] William Kennett Loftus, F.G.S. The Commission started out on its work in the year 1849, proceeding southwards by way of the Tigris and Mosul to Baghdad, and thence via Hillah, Dīwānīyah and the Lower Euphrates to Baṣrah, on its journey to the southern end of the boundary in Arabistan. During the journey, Mr. Loftus, who was keenly interested in the ancient remains along the route, took careful notes of the chief ruined sites, such as Niniveh, Babylon, Nuffar (Nippur), Warka (Erech) and tell-Muqayyar (Ur), and on arrival at Muhammarah he obtained leave from Colonel Williams to return to Warka and dig there on a small scale. The result of this, the first excavation in Southern Babylonia, were to be sent to the British Museum, and they are there now, the kernel of our early Babylonian collections”[3]
Most of the first archaeologists were also military men[4]. They were looking at the land in the same way. Land should be controlled. Earth was something to be dominated in order to obtain benefits. They were coming out of the ground. This richness symbolised that the land belonged to the controllers. Their roots came from this ground: their past, their history, their culture. The land did not belong to the local, indigenous populations that were living in the land, but to the people who were dominating and studying it. The gestures had two directions: a horizontal one, symbolising the control of the land, and a vertical one, showing that the controllers had the right to control it, to be there and to exploit it. Military maps could be used for archaeological missions. They were the same. Aerial photographs were most needed for the archaeological missions. These photographs were taken by aerial forces. Even today, archaeologists have to ask these forces for pictures taken before the Second World War. Trenches were opened. The use of “natives” –dominated by westerners- was essential. Minds –ideas, plans, interpretation- belonged to the foreign (soon colonial) powers; work, to the local inhabitants. Some of the workers were even prisoners, as it happened with H.R. Hall excavations in Eridu, undertaken with the help of seventy Turkish prisoners[5]. War was beneficed for archaeology, as H.R. Hall and C. Leonard Woolley wrote, ironically or not (the text should have been read in a most different way eighty five years ago): “It is curious that the first excavations of the British Museum on this site [Ur] should have taken place during the Crimean War, and the next during the Great War of 1914-18. In each case war gave an opportunity to archaeology”[6]. The Crimean War allowed the British Museum to obtain the first antiquities from Shaḥrein (Eridu) in 1855[7].The vocabulary may be an unexpected but clear signal of the ties between war and archaeology: “campaign”, “mission” are words that belong to both fields.  Archaeological missions took advantage on the occupation war, and began in order to find items to fill newly founded public and private museums in Europe and the United States which were financing the excavations. As Hall, again, wrote: “In 1918 the Trustees of the British Museum desired to take advantage of the British military occupation of `Irāq to resume their long interrupted work at Muqayyar”[8]. He continued: “the Director, Sir F.G. Kenyon, arranged with the military authorities for the transference to archaeological work from the Intelligence section of the army of Capt. R.C, Thompson (…. I was similarly transferred from the Intelligence branch of the army in England to Mesopotamia in order to carry on the work begun by him, and on arrival was attached by Sir (then Lieut.-Col.) A.T. Wilson to the Political Service for archaeological duty”[9]. In an explicit letter, Kenyon wrote to Gordon that Colonel Lawrence (the well-known English spy, military man and archaeologist) was digging for us [sic, which means: for the British Museum] at Carchemish”[10].
The relationship between Iraqis –in spite of Gertrude bell´s defence of Iraqis interests- and western archaeologists was not easy. Not only the south of Iraq was not stable, with rebel tribes moving, and attacks to the missions hat needed armed guards, but the tone used by some archaeologists denoted a certain “disregard” to Iraqi keepers[11]. The expression “native director of antiquities” was written, we suspect in a despised way, by S. Langdon to E.T. Leeds (keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) in January 1929[12].
Just after the First World War, in the early 20´s, British-North-American missions began in Mesopotamia. They were privately financed and organised by wealthy donors (like “the” Rockefeller) and institutions like the Oriental Institute, the Field Museum and the University of Pennsylvania, from the North-American side, and the British Museum and the Oxford Museum from the British side. Those missions lasted until the Second World War. Ur, Kish the Diyala valley (with various sites, such as Tell Asmar and Khafajah), north of Baghdad, were the chosen ones. The missions were huge: hundreds of local people participated. The finds were divided between Iraq, and the western side (The United States of America, and the United Kingdom). Since the end of the First World War, Iraq was a British mandate. A king was appointed in 1921 but the country did not get its fully independence until the Second World War[13]. As someone wrote: even when Iraq was apparently and independent nation at the beginning of the 30´s, negotiations were always under the control of the Colonial Office, not the Foreign Office[14]. The National Museum of Iraq, in Baghdad, and the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, were institutions established by the British Mandate, thanks to Gertrude Bell, an English woman who became the first director of the newly founded National Museum, who acted in favour of Iraq instead of British authorities when the divisions of the finds were undertaken after each yearly archaeological missions. Her control was not powerful enough to avoid the confused –to say it politely- division of the Kish tablets between Iraq and Great Britain (one thousands tablets were illegally sent from Baghdad to Oxford by S. Langdon, director of the Kish mission, before 1933 when the mission ceased, without the knowledge of Iraqi authorities)[15].
Since the early twenties –since the first British and North-American missions in the Near East-, finds in Mesopotamia were conditioned by what had happened in both previous and simultaneous missions in Egypt[16]. The Egyptologist Carter discovered the Tutankhamun tomb, with its more or less unspoiled funerary offering and treasures, at the beginning of 1923. Press coverage was huge, and the public fame acquired by these findings.  Pushing on Mesopotamian missions from donors began. Discoveries, as important, and as media divulgated, should be obtained. The financial possibilities of the missions in Iraq were at stake. Egypt was the leading ancient culture for the westerner imagination. All the media had Egypt as a privilege topic. Nothing similar had been found in Mesopotamia until then. Large Assyrian and neo-Assyrian stone statues were recovered in the north of Iraq in the 19th century, but there was a blatant lack of golden treasures that could fascinate western public imagination[17].  Tutankhamun and its glittering finds were almost certainly in every archaeologist´s mind excavating in Mesopotamia. A letter belonging to the Ur mission, sent from Baghdad on the 28th December 1927, said that “it is impossible nowadays to speak of “rich tombs” without evoking a memory of the marvellous treasures of Tutankhamen”[18]
The discovery of the so called Royal Tombs of Ur –the adjective “royal” was much “needed” in order to ignite public´s interest and imagination[19]-, at the end of 1927, including the Queen Puabi´s (first called Shub-ad, due to an erroneous lecture of the signs) heavy golden funerary items, was the much needed answer to Carter. Some precious offerings had already been unearthed from tombs in 1923.
The diffusion of the discoveries had to be controlled. What should be communicated to the public, the date, the pace and the place of announcement were most important. Should the information be given to the journalists in Philadelphia, London or Bagdad? Should all of it be made public in the same city? A text of the finds at the Queen Puabi´s Tomb was prepared for the Bureau of Publicity of the University of Pennsylvania, to be released on Thursday 12th January 1928[20]. The importance of the use of the media (printed and broadcast[21] news), that Woolley controlled so expertly, was not confined to the Ur mission. The responsible of the Kish mission were aware also that publicity was necessary:  “the photographs which you sent to the Museum are splendid and most interesting. A selection has been made from the lot for publicity purposes”, Ernest Mackay, director of the mission, wrote to Professor Stephen Langdon in Oxford[22]. Different strategies were followed in order to promote the glamorous finds. The Rockefeller family would have been happy to see that their funds were used for such big events: discoveries rivalling those happening in Egypt. Woolley spent a tiring time writing what the press notification.  But, at the same time, it was decided that news on new discoveries should be managed carefully[23]. Woolley´s decision worked perfectly: Mesopotamia defeated Egypt. Woolley wrote, in a long text on 30rd January 1927, that the Mesopotamian culture was superior to the Egyptian one: “the technique of the arts and crafts is definitively superior”[24] . His view on the superiority of Mesopotamian culture was accepted by the press. For instance, E.L. Rawley wrote in the New York Times, on the 29th January 1928[25], that “Tomb [Quenn Puabi´s Tomb] shows Mesopotamia was more civilized than Egypt”. This constant comparison between Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures, this never ending confrontation between them, induces to think that Egyptian culture was the paradigmatic culture known by the public to which another ancient culture, as the Mesopotamian (or Sumerian) one, less known, had to stand up. In a way, no ancient western culture that could not be compared favourably with the Egyptian one by the public had no true media interest. Egyptian culture was the standard. This could detect in the way some news is written. Head news the Cal Call (18th August 1928) (the San Francisco Call, which received different names), from San Francisco, were: “When a Mummy Queen “Lost Her Head””. It has taken us some time to get aware that Queen Puabi had never been mummified! Mummy is a word that could pass unnoticed today, but certainly not in the twenties. But, why the paper had to avoid it?  It was obvious that the scarce remains of a splashed cranium –the only visible remains of Puabi- could have not awaken the public´s imagination and interest –except for the fact, often mentioned, that gore acts were practised on her and on servants who were sacrificed or killed when Queen Puabi was buried, which could compensated for the lack of mummies[26]!: “Evidence that the Queen of Ancient Ur Was Clubbed to Death” was an irresistible news title in the Herald of Washington on the 25th November 1928, as “Ur Tombs Yields-Slain Family” (Evening Sun, New York, 12th January 1928, written just after the discovery of Queen Puabi´s Tomb) or, months later, in the Christian (Pueblo, Colorado, 19th August 1928): “Why the Beauties of Ur Were Killed With Their Kings”[27]. Our contemporary sensibility, sharpened by news on television and internet, and by horror films, still react to sentences like this. The only difference between nowadays sensibility and the public opinion from the 20´s is our possible gender awareness (especially in the United States of America, we presume): Beauties could be only ladies, who had to be tied to Kings!  This sort of news were not related only to the Ur discoveries. Kish could be related to such lucky finds (to such a way of looking at finds): “Entombed Alive with the Royal Dead. Human Victims Interred with Their Monarch to insure His Comfort in the Land of the Dead, According to the Latest Findings of Archaeologists in Excavations at Ancient City of Kish, site of the World Oldest Known Civilization”, wrote Dexley Haynes in the Washington Post on the 28th October 1928. Today, the Australian film director and actor Mel Gilbson has shaped, for good or bad, our vision of pre-Columbian societies as the model of bloody barbaric ones; but the model was a far different culture in the 20´s: “No stage setting could suggest more vividly the action of tragedy. Not even the skeletons of the maidens sacrificed to the “Rain God” in the Sacred Well of Yucatan could match in graphic qualities the silent testimony of the slaughter of Sumerians”, added Haynes. If Mesopotamian finds could not rival those of Egypt, some spicy and gory graphic details could attract and appeal to the public attention.
The way news from Egyptian missions and the importance of the Tutankhamen tomb finds framed the way Mesopotamia, and in particular the discoveries at the “Royal Cemetery” of Ur, were perceived and judged,  could not be dismissed nor underestimated. For a local North American paper, Queen Puabi was even Egyptian[28]. In a similar way, an article on the golden vases and jewellery of the Puabi´s tomb displayed at the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania were presented as a “work of early Egyptian Goldsmiths”[29]. Tut –as one journalist wrote[30]- and his rich tomb were the standard up to whom Mesopotamian were taken into account: it was a way of addressing to the public, by archaeologists and paper writers. Tutankhamen and Egyptian culture helped the public to locate Mesopotamia on the course of time. Meskalamdug, one of the Sumerian kings buried in Ur, whose tomb was discovered in 1924, almost four years earlier than the burial place of Queen Puabi, was presented this way: “Beside this ruler, whose name is believed to have been Meekalamdug [sic], the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt are modern. He lived more than 2200 years before Tutankhamen, and consequently the span that separates their lives is greater than that of the entire Christian era.”[31]
The comparison between Egypt and Mesopotamia was useful for a public who knew little about the Ancient Near East and who may have a confused image of it. But the main reason Mesopotamia had attracted travellers, visitors and archaeologists since so long, especially since the 19th century, was the quotations of Mesopotamian cities, kings and queens in the Bible. Sumer was not mentioned, except for the city of Ur. The Royal Tombs of Ur, and Queen Puabi were not behind the description of Ur in the Ancient Testament; the mythical patriarch Abraham, described as born in Ur was the cause Ur was known by the public. So, the only way to awake the interest of the modern viewer was necessarily, especially in such a Protestant or puritan society as the North American one before the Second World War, by mentioning over and over again, the relationship between Ur –Ur of Chaldees, or the Biblical City of Chaldees, as it was almost always cited in the press- and Abraham, and, so…. Abraham and Queen Puabi. Whether Woolley believed there was any relationship between a real figure like Puabi and a mythical one like Abraham is still debated[32]. Richard Zettler thinks he did not. But Abraham was much needed –and used- if Ur and the Royal Tombs would have to call the attention of readers, visitors and donors –maybe even scholars as some of them, like the Ur mission´s epigraphist Léon Legrain (Father Legrain, or the Reverend Dr. Léon Legrain, he was usually called), were priests or monks-. The relationship the press established between Puabi and Abraham was fussy –but able to evoke a dangerous attractive and fearful world, in a very Hollywood manner: “maybe Abraham and Sarah, his wife, watched her [Queen Puabi, cited as Shub-ad, as her name was erroneously read at first] funeral procession through the streets of Ur; maybe they were even among those invited to her burial, for Abraham was a prominent citizen (…) And from her tomb has come a new and rather terrible light upon the customs of the time, and one explanation, perhaps, of why the patriarch was glad enough to put as much distance as possible between himself and his birthplace”[33]. Maybe… “Ur was a laughter-loving city [the journalist describes Ur this lively way certainly more for media or novelistic reasons than for scholarly ones that would not catch people´s attention] from which Abraham went with Sarah, his wife, and it an almost incredibly cruel one. Its combined church, dance hall, theatre hall, theatre, night club and town hall was an immense ziggurat or terraced structure, which was the Temple of the Moon God Nannar and his wife the Moon Goddess. There were balls and fetes and ceremonies there in which everybody, high and low, joined.”[34] If we have to believe this description, “Ur of Chaldees” had nothing to envy to Babylon, as perversely envisioned by D. W. Griffith in the film Birth of a Nation. All this composed the environment of “a civilisation remarkably complete, full of luxury and splendid pageantry and yet incredible cruel. Day after day, night after night, they sang and feasted and drank and offered human sacrifices to their strange gods”[35]. Most of the articles published in the newspapers and in magazines in the 20´s and 30´s in the United States of America described the city of Ur more as “the Home Town of Abraham”[36] than as Sumerian or Mesopotamian city with no true connection with the Bible[37]. Abraham would not have lived in Ur –following the myth in the Bible-, Ur might not have attracted so much the media in spite of the discovery of the “Royal Tombs”.  
The comparison with Ancient Egypt, and the relationship with Biblical myths and heroes, as narrated in illustrated articles in newspapers and magazines, helped to focus the public interest on Sumerian archaeological sites and finds, such as Ur, Kish, and settlements and cities in the Diyala river valley, and to draw an appealing –and intriguing- image of Mesopotamian society. Sumer was shown as the origin of western civilization and, at the same time, a barbaric one, surpassed and refined by the Hebrews. It was accepted since the end of the 19th century that at least some of the stories in the Old Testament were related to or inspired by previous Sumerian myths, but this did not imply that the Sumerian society was nearer the western one nor was superior and preferable to the Holy Land world. Eden, as it was mentioned in the press, had been located in Mesopotamia, but this was the place where men felt too. The promotion of the most important discoveries from North-American and British archaeological missions in Iraq was made thanks to the media but also to a powerful weapon: temporary exhibitions.
While small –and undocumented- yearly exhibitions of recent finds in Ur were organised at the British Museum (as Sarah Collins has mentioned to us in a message[38]), a large exhibition on Ur, with items from London and Philadelphia, was planned in 1928[39]. It was going to be shown first in London, much later in Philadelphia, where the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, since 25th May 1929, had already included in its permanent collection a display of the Ur treasures, including Queen Puabi´s outfit, that had been given to Philadelphia when the division of the finds fixed previously in Baghdad[40].  
The so-called golden and glittering “Ur Treasure” was to be included in the large temporary exhibition in London. It would be shown on a reconstruction of Queen [41] Puabi head moulded by Katherine Woolley, lost since then. The coloured portrait was fashioned from a skull, and imitating an Iraqi woman´s face (that ended looking suspiciously like Katherine), but also Hollywood actresses images, such as Greta Garbo, dressed as the glamorous early 20th century spy Mata Hari (and maybe other stars), as Jean Evans has brilliantly pointed out[42]. As the jewellery and the glittering heavy outfit was found dismantled, the strings lost, and the beads separated, in the tomb, they were partially recomposed or invented at first by Katherine Woolley[43] (Charles Leonard´s troublesome wife -if we have to believe Agatha Christie, the apparently not too brilliant archaeologist Max Mallowan´ s spouse, who was working for Woolley-), on the site, following, inevitably, her own “art deco” taste, in spite of Legrain sharp criticisms. The Londoner exhibition had a large success[44]. It was attended by the Prince of Wales. Even the King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, came to visit it.  
Meanwhile, after the London show, the Philadelphia large exhibition took place in a most unexpected, but cleverly chosen to attract masses, place: a large store or mall –that does not stand anymore as a commercial building-. A mall is a place to show and to sell. The Mesopotamian image had to be communicated, an image that had to appear as appealing as the image of the Egyptian funerary treasures. The ninth floor of the now disappeared Strawbridge & Clothier store was used as an exhibition space[45]. The exhibition did not last much: only one week, from the 21st until 28th February 1934, we do not know if this was due to commercial reasons or because there was still certain doubts about the success of a Mesopotamian exhibition, even as glamorous as the Queen Puabi´s shimmering outfit. Images on newspapers were nevertheless not focused on the jewellery but on the harp with the golden bull head. Anyway, the exhibition was well mentioned, in small columns, by the press[46]. This exhibition was related to another, most important, event that took place at the same time at the Convention Hall. This event was not planned at first and shown for the first time in Philadelphia but in Chicago were it was produced for the 1933 World Fair untitled A Century of Progress [47]. This major show was called Romance of a People. It happened for the first time in the Soldier Field in Chicago. This stadium was capable of accepting more than 100000 people. In fact, 125000 spectators were at the opening on the 3rd July 1933. This date was symbolically important: it was the Jewish Day. The show, a sort of musical, with 6000 actors, was a long recreation of the history of the Jews. The motivation was clear. It was written in the front page of the program: “For the Settlement of the German-Jewish Refugees in Palestine”. Inside, it was indicated that Romance of a People show was a way of protesting against Hitler´s politics in Germany.  When the show was transferred to Philadelphia, a relationship between the Ur treasure exhibition and Romance of a People spectacle was established: “The Exhibit is particularly timely jut now because “Ur of the Chaldees” was a city from which Abraham went forth to go into the land of Canaan. Abraham is one of the leading characters in the great pageant “The Romance of a People”, now being presented in Convention Hall”[48]. The Philadelphia Inquirer mentioned as an important fact “the historical link between the exotic ornaments and the present Jewish pageant now under way…”[49].
The relationship establish between a Semitic culture and Ur (under the Sumerians) is interesting enough. Piotr Michalowski, Jerry Cooper and Gonzalo Rubio[50], among others, have suggested that “the Sumerians”, as a “tribe”, with its own racial features, its language, its religion and its land or “nation”, were, in fact, a problem and an invention; an invention, as Joaquín Sanmartín has explained, from racist or anti-Jewish German scholars from the First World War period on[51]. The ideology behind the definition of what a Sumerian was and had to be was determined by the fact that the Ancient Near East was considered the origin of Western Culture –the Garden of Eden was located in the marshes of the delta of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates-, and Acadians, who spoke a Semitic language, could not be the first civilised people. As Sumerian was another language spoken or written in the region, it was considered that Sumerian was spoken only by special people different from “the” Acadians, and “the” Sumerians, ethnically different from the any other Semitic tribe, could be at the origin of western –this means, Aryan- civilization. Ties established between the Ur exhibition and the Romance of a People show was a way of counterattacking this racist belief in the existence of “the” Sumerians, thought to be different from any Semitic people. The truth is probably that Sumerian was a language, not a race; it was a language spoken by people who also were speaking Acadian. Semitic, too, should have been applied, not to a race but to a linguistic group. So, the Ur exhibition, at least in Philadelphia, was able to transform the chosen items into political “art”.
The Ur material was not the only Mesopotamian one that was shown in exhibitions dedicated only to this sort of works. Archaeological missions to different sites located in the river Diyala valley, north of Baghdad, had been undertaken by the Oriental Institute of Chicago. Maybe the major finds were of statues of different sizes, made of stone, statues of standing male or female figures, which have been interpreted either as human or divine representations or doubles. Symbols of submission, adoration, respect; images of worshippers or of loyal subjects; statues understood as means to connect to worshipped divinities, or purposes (final causes): recipients of worship as images of ancestors, as Jean Evans has suggested[52]. Whatever they were –it is impossible to look at them, or to treat them as there were judged and treated in the third millennium BC-, the five best and better preserved Diyala statues from the Oriental Institute Museum were shown, jointly with some graphic documentation (framed small pictures on one panel and a large framed watercolour by the writer Gertrude Rachel Levy, reproduced in a book by Henri Frankfort, Sculpture of the Third Millenium BC from tell Asmar and Khafājah, 1939)[53], in a unique large showcase at the first floor of the Social Science Hall on Northerly Island at the Chicago World´s Fair in 1933. This pavilion held an exhibition on the history of America, giving importance to the Maya culture, and, on the first floor, Egyptian and Mesopotamian items from the Oriental Institute Museum[54]. Again, Mesopotamia was standing up to Egypt, even if the Diyala worshipper statues were describe as “primitive subjects”[55].
The Mesopotamian excavated artefacts were shown in exhibitions, such as the ones in London, Philadelphia and Chicago, which were not art orientated (yet) but they were not totally ethnographical too. Objects were shown in showcases, some even in individual ones, as any precious work of art, but the exhibitions took place in unexpected locations, such as fair pavilions and malls. Thirty years had to pass until Pop Art arrived and these distinctions lose their meaning.
Jean Evans has shown how Mesopotamian sculptures –the name comes from the world of art to where Mesopotamian idols did not belong- gradually shifted from the ethnographic world to the art world in the thirties, when the major discoveries from archaeological missions, in Kish, Ur and the Diyala valley,  in Iraq, under British colonial control, took place[56]. Considered as “just” magical or practical artefacts –which in fact they were-, in which aesthetic values were not the main reason for their existence[57], these images slowly been seen as embodiment of ideas in material, sensible, sensuous shapes,  just like any modern sculpture. This shift was inevitable. Since Hegel defined art as a process thank to which a work of art was produced, and a work of art as an idea made sensible, and since he began the history of art –a three movement history of the slow sensible manifestation of an idea (the spirit, as Hegel called it)-, with Egyptian, Babylonian and Assyrian items, artefacts as ancient as those entered the world of art. It was true that Hegel mainly knew Babylonian and Assyrian artefacts through Herodotus and the Bible but, nevertheless, he took them into consideration. In fact, Hegel opened and at the same time closed the path to the world of art to Mesopotamian items. On one side, these were the embodiment of ideas, but on the other side, this embodiment was “just” symbolic: shapes –massive, closed and geometric- were not ready yet to translate all the power of an idea into the material world. The idea was suggested but not clearly fleshed out by material shapes. So, Mesopotamian and Egyptian works of art suffer when compared with Classical (Roman, even if Hegel was thinking in Greek) art. They were and could not really be “art”: but they were on the threshold of it. Art appeared thanks to this “primitive” translation of an idea: it was a way to connect with the invisible, even if the “first” works of art were an approximate and dubious way to reach it. The transformation of Mesopotamian handicrafts and fetishes into works of art was important. By this change, they were entering the history of western art. They were not related anymore to the history of the Near East. They were judged as forerunners to Greek Art, the acme of Western Art. So the colonial and mandated control western countries of the Near East by western countries (The Great Britain and France, especially) had a deep symbolic justification. Roots of western civilization, expressed by the creativity of “artists”, were located in this part of the world –as in Egypt too, conquered by Napoleonic troops at the end of the 18th century, and which was controlled by a British mandate before the Second World War-, which had nothing to do with the present inhabitants (who are not “westerners”). If art was the expression of a vision of the world, Mesopotamian items had to be judged as art, because art was a concept conceived by German philosophy (supposedly based on the Ancient Greek one).  
The ontological transformation of Mesopotamian handicrafts and fetishes (the words we are using are inevitably conditioned by the vocabulary of the theory of art) into works of art is also perceived in the way the “Ur Treasure” was judged. Jewellery had been described as similar as modern one. It could please modern taste[58]. The status of Queen Puabi´s outfit was related to taste. It was as if it had been crafted nor for religious or magical reasons, but for the sole pleasure. It was and it is our taste that decided and decides about what the Sumerian jewellery “is”. Its “being” depends on the way we react in front of it, on how it appeals to us. Our feelings, connected or not to reason, are the ways by which this outfit is transported in the realm of art, and seen as “art”; by the fact that it is judge as art, it becomes art. And so, it enters a world that has been defined not before the 19th century; this means that Queen Puabi´s outfit, as a work of art –but it can be only a work of art for us-, is a modern creation. It does not belong to Mesopotamian times anymore, because in those days it was something else; what was it? We do not know, we cannot know. We do not, we cannot, because we relate to the outfit by our senses –the gaze-. And by looking at it, from a certain distance, the distance required to appreciate the outfit with a certain disinterested interest, Queen Puabi´s outfit ceases to belong to the sacred world to enter another world -in a way relate to it-, that has no “real” power on us. If works of art have the power to impress us is because we adopt a position and an attitude that let the work of art to be powerful. And in a way they are. Images impose their presence, like a being, George Didi-Huberman thinks. But this power has been conceded or allowed by us. A work of art is a projection of ourselves.  
The transubstantiation[59] of a magical or a practical item –belonging to the realms of religion, magic and handicrafts- into a work of art was completed when western modern artists looked at these items as works of art and interpreted them. A work of art, it has been said, only when it is interpreted, by an artist, an interpreter (an actor, a musician, a dancer, a performer) or an active spectator (a listener, a reader, a viewer, a participant).  As Evans and others art historians[60] have pointed out, the English sculptor Henry Moore[61], after visiting the exhibition of some Sumerian sculptures at the British Museum in the early 30´s[62], and the sculptor and draftsman Alberto Giacometti, when a visit to the Louvre Museum in Paris where he discovered the neo-Sumerian King Gudea statues, were able to create sculpted or drawn variations on these “primitive subjects”. The British sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth was also fascinated by these Mesopotamian statues and busts of clasped hands worshippers, seen in London before the Second World War[63]. Sumerian “art” was created[64].
Ancient as Modern. Aesthetics and Archaeology deals precisely with the substantial transformation of Sumerian items, from Ur, Kish and the Diyala valley, where major North-American archaeological missions took place between the First and the Second World Wars, when the western colonial structure was arriving to its acme followed years after by its quick end, and when the notion of modern art was defined. The exhibition would like to show, by presenting together, without any distinction, ancient items, modern and contemporary works of art, and all kind of written and graphic documentation (handwritten and typed letters and texts, telegrams, magazines, booklets, books, pictures, plans and drawings) how archaeological items, excavated in the 20´s and 30´s, have become icons of the world of art. Their find, restoration, reception, promotion and exhibition were able to produce an invisible conversion in the modern viewer perception: the object changed its statues, entering the world of art, because our way to looking at it changed; it changed because these items were offered to us, thanks to images and exhibitions, to be looked as works of art, to produce in us a sensible or aesthetic experience. Exhibitions were at the same time a way to transform archaeological material into art and the result of this transformation. Archaeological material entered the exhibition realm because it was considered to be art, and because exhibitions were a most efficient way of provoking this transformation or transubstantiation. Since its entering the world of art, and its location among other works of art, archaeological material could inspire artists. It was seem as a prefiguration of what modern artists wanted to say and make, so it could be used as a starting point, as an inspiration to talk about our world and ourselves. Michael Harowitz sculptures made of papier maché, that reproduces, in cheap, gaudy and left-out material, Sumerian sculptures that have been destroyed or robbed in the National Museum of Iraq, in Baghdad, during the coalition invasion in 2003, and the dismantlement of Iraqi administrative structures, were a poignant testimony of the power of ancient images and the loss we suffer from their destruction. Our vision shrank, so does our world.       
The exhibition deals with the changing way of looking at archaeology. Archaeology has been a strong and efficient way to fill museums and collections. Archaeological missions began for two reasons: to control colonial territories and to create art collections that showed the roots of western culture and civilization, offering models of behaving and acting. But the notion of art is modern; ancient items, such as Mesopotamian one, were not, could not be art. They were not made to be looked upon, to make us think about the world by “just” looking at them or by having a sensible –and distant- relationship. But we do look at them nowadays. We look at them as if they are works of art. But they belong to the world of art, in fact. They did not when they were created and used, but they have entered since their discovery and introduction in museums, by the fact that we relate to them by looking at them only, as if they had been made to be looked (to be sensibly perceived).  A double transformation happened: our way to relate to the archaeological material, and the fact that archaeological material has been shown and treated as if it was a work of art. It was –it is- because it is shown as art; because it is looked as art; but we look at it as if it is a modern work of art because it is shown, in museum, to be treated as art: to let us feel emotions that make us think. This transformation was successful; it has change our way of looking at the world. It has made us better citizens, maybe. This transformation has a history. This is the history –or the story- we tell.    

[1]  The history of the first travellers to Mesopotamia since the Roman Empire fall -especially lesser known, in the western academic world, Muslim travellers from the Córdoba caliphate-, is well resumed in BAHRANI, Zainab: “Untold Tales of Mesopotamian Discovery”, BAHRANI, Zainab, ÇELIK, Zeynep, ELDEM, Edhem (eds.), Scramble for the Past. A Story of Archaeology in the Ottoman Empire 1753-1914, Salt, Istambul, 2011, ps. 125-155; BAHRANI, Zainab: “Poseer Mesopotamia”, AZARA, Pedro (ed.), Antes del diluvio. Mesopotamia 3500-2100 aC, La Polígrafa & Fundación “la Caixa”, Barcelona, 2011, ps- 104-107. See also: CÓRDOBA, Joaquín Mª, ESCRIBANO, Fernando, MANÉ, Montserrat: “Viajeros y estudiosos en el redescubrimiento del Oriente Próximo antiguo. Otras consideraciones, vols. 1 y 2”, Isimu. Revista sobre el Oriente próximo y Egipto en la antigüedad, 9 and 10, 2006 and 2007.
[2] The article respects the varied ways of translating Arabic names that appear in different texts..
[3] Ur Excavations, volume 1: Al`Ubaid, Oxford University Press, 1927, Publications of the Joint Expedition of the British Museum and of the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania to Mesopotamia. A Report on the Work Carried out at Al-`Ubaid for the British Museum in 1919 and for the Joint Expedition in 1922-23, p. 3.
[4] For instance, the North-American and British archaeological mission at Kish had a topographer who was a military man: Colonel W.H. Lane, who was able, in 1923, to perceive the importance of the mount Ingharra where the remains of a palace were found, and “supervise this site”. Who else could have known so well the inner structure of the land? (MACKAY, Ernest: A Sumerian Palace and the “A” Cemetery at Kish, Mesopotamia, part II, Field Museum of Natural History, Anthropology, Memoirs, Vol. I, nº 2, Chicago, 1929, p. 75). 
[5] HALL, H.R.: “Ur and Eridu: The British Excavations of 1919”, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, IX, 1-4, April-October 1923, p. 180
[6] Ur Excavations, volume 1: Al`Ubaid, Op. cit., Preface.
[7] HALL, H.R.: “The Discoveries at Tell El-`Obeid in Southern Babylonian, and Some Egyptian Comparisons”, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, VIII (1922), p. 244.
[8] HALL, H.R.: “Notes on the Excavations of 1919 at Muqayyar, el-`Obeid, and Abu Shahrein”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. Centenary Supplement, 1924, p. 104
[9] Ib.
[10]  Letter of 4th March 1921. Reproduced in DYSON, Jr., Robert H.:  “Archival Glimpses of the Ur Expedition in the Years 1920 to 1926”, Expedition Volume 7, nº 1, Fall 1977,  p. 7. Online copy in: Last consult: 1st July 2014.
[11] “I doubt whether they have yet anyone capable of administering a Museum or caring for antiquities” (Letter to Frederic Kenyon by Gordon Byron Gordon, director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology of the University of Pennsylvania –the UPennMuseum-, 21st April 1926, The British Museum Archives, London, CE32/27/72)
[12] Kish Archives, Ashmolean Museum Archives, Oxford.
[13] An English High Commissioner was in fact more powerful than the King Faysal I. As the “Arab Government” was not keen in letting such precious items as “gold things from Mes-kalam-dug´s grave” to be sent to London for “treatment” and to be electrotyping duplicated, fearing that they would not return to Iraq, Woolley proposed “to see the King when I am in Baghdad and think that I may be able to get round him by talk, if necessary, of public ridicule and a newspaper attack; he is afraid of newspapers” (Letter to Frederic Kenyon, director of the British Museum, by Ch. Leonard Woolley, from Ur, 31st January 1928, The British Museum Archives, London, CE32/27/152/1).  
[14] The “civil administration of Mesopotamia” was under the control of The Secretary of State for India. Thanks to Colonel Lawrence´s efforts, it was transferred from the India Office to the Colonial Office in 1921 (Letter from Sir Frederick Kenyon, director of the British Museum, to Dr. G.B. Gordon, director of the Museum of Archaeology of Anthropology of the University of Pennsylvania, 21st April 1920. UPennMuseum Archives, Philadelphia). On 21st July 1933, Woolley received a letter explaining that Iraq had been admitted as a member of the League of Nations, that the “High Commissioner for Iraq has been abolished and an Ambassador has been appointed in his place. All communications on matters relating to Iraq, now fall to be dealt with the Foreign Office”. This letter was sent by The Under Secretary of State, from the … Colonial Office in London (The British Museum Archives, London, WY1/20/16)
[15] A letter (maybe by C. Leonard Woolley: name unreadable) sent from Ur to Frederic G. Kenyon (The British Museum) on the 5th December 1928, says that a tablet with the name of Abraham had been unearthed and the secret must be kept. The reason was that this tablet should go to London and so escape the knowledge of Iraqi authorities: “in the normal course of events we shall get all the tablets [sic], but if there were a fuss in the papers, Baghdad would of course keep this one, and we need not invite that risk.” (Ur Archives, the British Museum, London, WYI/13/71/1). In a next letter to C. Leonard Woolley sent by Frederic Kenyon, on the 22nd December 1928, it is written: “I think it is best to say nothing to anybody about it until it has been brought home [sic] for closer study”.
[16] We would like to precise that this article does not relate necessarily what really happened, but what was perceived, and what was communicated, through different means, about North-American archaeological finds in the Near East in the 20´s and early 30´s, in order to have a better understanding of the image the public received which shape the judgement of Mesopotamian culture and handicrafts.
[17] Henry Field, a member of the Kish Excavations by the Field Museum in Chicago and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, wrote to Mr. D. C. Davies (director of the Field Museum), on the 4th January 1928, just after Queen Puabi´s Tomb discovery: “Private [sic]: at Ur they have found some magnificent gold objects will be published shortly but as Kish was much more important city at an earlier date it is quite probable that we too shall find magnificent objects when we reach the lowest levels.” (Field Museum Archives, Chicago. Box#1. Folder #7. F.M.- Ox. University Expedition to Kish. Sixth Season 1927-1929 Part 1).
[18] UPennMuseum Archives, Philadelphia, Near East. Iraq. Ur, UR [Correspondence- Exp. V, Jan-Jul., 1927]
[19] It is significant that Woolley used the adjective “royal” to qualify tombs… yet to be discovered!: “we are going soon to get a royal tomb which ought to be the pride of the dig; I have suspected its presence since last season (…) and though of course it is impossible to say that the contents will be anything remarkable, there can be no doubt that we are getting something of real [sic: real, or “real”?] interest.” (Letter by Woolley to Kenyon, 1t November 1927, The British Museum Archives, London, CE32/27/129).
[20] UPennMuseum Archives, Philadelphia [Correspondence- Exp. VI. Jan-Jun 1928]. This text followed a letter, by Frederic Kenyon, from the British Museum, about the publicity of the finds, written on 5th January 1928. A few days later, another letter from Frederic Kenyon to Mrs. McHugh, on the 17th January 1928, was about the publication of the news in different newspapers. The text for the press was written by Ch. Leonard Woolley and released on the 14th February 1928. The news of the finds for the media (press and magazines) was a major concern for both institutions involved in the Ur mission, the University of Pennsylvania and the British Museum.
[21] “The discovery of the Royal Tombs has been broadcast: it does certainly merit publicity” (Letter to R.H. Hill by Ch. L. Woolley, 1st January 1931, The British Museum Archives, London, WY1/13/14/1)
[22] Letter attached to the Christian Science Monitor, Boston, Friday 22nd August 1924, cut page. Field Museum Archives, Chicago, Box #1, Folder #3 F.M. – Ox. University Expedition to Kish. First and Second Season 1912-1924.
[23] Letter from Frederic Kenyon to Mrs. McHugh, 22nd December 1928, UPennMuseum Archives, Philadelphia, Near East Ur [Correspondence-Exp. VI Aug. Dec., 1927]. Kenyon had already sent a previous letter to Mrs. McHugh, on the 17th January 1928, about the publication of the news in papers, and, some days before, on the 5th January 1928, a letter to the British Museum dealing with the publicity of the finds (UPennMuseum Archives, Philadelphia, [Correspondence-Exp.VI. Jan-Jun. 1928].
[24] Box 1: Near East. Iraq.Ur [Legrain (and others 1919-1921), 1924-1928] to [Corres.: British Museum, Mesopotamian Exped., C. L. Woolley, 1926], UPennMuseum Archives, Philadelphia
[25] All the press news mentioned in this text (except those from the British Museum Archives, which are mentioned apart) have been collected by and are kept in the UPennMuseum Archives, Philadelphia. We own their knowledge thanks to the help and generosity of Alex Pezzati (Senior Archivist) and also Eric Schnittke (Assistant Archivist, both at the UPennMuseum Archives).  
[26] The shattering of Puabi´s skull had some benefit aspects, nevertheless: “skull was shattered when her husband died so her soul could go with his” (Washington Herald, 8th September 1929)
[27] “”Die ye with your Lord, ye-star gazing slaves of Chaldea!”
This imperious and haughty command-flat sentence of death for half naked serfs [a titillating detail] who, thousands of years ago, sweated in pungent darkness beneath wheeling constellations, also included thirty-four of the most famous beauties [why “beauties”? Another “sexy” detail, able to seduce and shock the reader´s attention?] of ancient Ur in Mesopotamia (…) Why were the beauties of Ur sacrificed with their king? This fascinating [sic]  question, smacking of the mystery of ages and surrounded by all the glamor [sic] of a vanished civilization, engaged scientific [this is a serious text!] attention (...) The beauties of Ur were sealed in the tomb with their king as a sacrifice to Ishtar, the goddess of Love! [a “romantic” and somehow steamy scene]”
[28] “Treasures Found in Egyptian Queen´s Tomb”, Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, 14th October 1928.
[29] William Ward, in a text which references unfortunately have been lost. The text deal with precious items from the “Sumerian” city.
[30] It took us some time to understand that Tut was not an unknown Egyptian Queen but “our” well known Tuthankamen: “Long Before the Time of Tut” (California Record, Stockton, 14th February 1928)
[31] The Evening Post, New York, 17th December 1927. An almost identical commentary was applied to Puabi in the California Record, Stockton, 14th February 1928. (see previous note): Her tomb antedates that of Egypt´s Tut-Ankh-Amen by almost as long a span of time separates us from the birth of Christ”. 
[32] Charles Leonard Woolley wrote: “at Ur no concrete memorial of Abraham was brought to light”, Abraham. Recent Discoveries and Hebrew Origins, Faber and Faber, London, 1935, p. 9; but he also promoted a campaign asking for funds for his archaeological missions among donors “interested in the (…) beginnings of European civilization, and the antecedents and the illustration of the Old Testament narrative” (printed publicity, UPennMuseum Archives, Philadelphia,  Near East. Ur [Correspondence-E Exp. VII, Jul-Dec., 1928]: did Woolley use the wide spread biblical background beliefs for financial reasons?  There is a much interesting case with an inscribed tablet found in Ur which supposedly held the name of Abraham written in it. It seems that Woolley did not really believe it, but he did not want to get publicity about this news because he wanted to bring the tablet to London and not give it  to Baghdad that would ask for it due to the public fuss the news would raise:  “I (…) enclose a communication from Burrows [Rev. Father Eric Burrows, Jesuitical epigraphist of the Ur mission, Stephen Langdon´s disciple], who think we have on one tablet the name of Abraham (…)But Burrows would wish to have a second opinion before talking of anything of the sort (…)  I would further urge (…) no hint be allowed to get out until after the season is over; in the normal course of events we shall get all the tablets, but if there were a fuss in the papers Baghdad would of course keep this one, and we need not invite that risk. A generally accepted document of Abraham would be an asset indeed!” (Letter by Woolley to Kenyon, Ur, 5th December 1928, The British Museum Archives, London, WY1/13/71/1) 
[33] “The Cruel Royal Funeral of Abraham´s City of Ur”, Light, San Antonio, Texas, 4th March 1928.
[34] “Treasures of Ancient Ur. Remarkable Precious Objects from the Royal Graves of the Biblical “City of Chaldees”, Oldest on Earth, and the Birthplace of the Patriarch Abraham”, Herald Examiner, Chicago, 8th July 1928.
[35] The clipping of the newspaper holding this quotation, from an article untitled “Strange New Discoveries in the Tombs of Ancient Ur. Revelation of Life 5500 Years Ago in the Biblical City of Chaldees Where Beards Were Put Upon the Sacred Bulls to Show their Divinity, All the Nobles Shaved their Heads and Wholesale Human Sacrifices Were Made at the Funerals of their Kings and Queens”, which can be looked upon at the UPennMuseum Archives, has no bibliographical reference, unfortunately.
[36] Jewish Tribune, 2nd December 1927.
[37] It is interesting to read that, “in the beginnings”, Sumerians were “true” believers. The North-American Assyriologist Stephen Langdon –a priest who wrote on the “Sumerian Paradise”, and a founder and a member of the Kish mission-, wrote that, at first, Sumerians were monotheists, believing in a unique god, An, or –as forerunners of Christians- in “the great trinity of Ea, Nether Sea and Sky”, but felt (sic) “to extreme polytheism and to widely spread belief of evil spirits. It is, in a very true sense, the history of the fall of man” (FIELD, Henry: The Field Museum. Oxford University Expedition to Kish, Mesopotamia, 1923-1929, Field Museum of Natural History, 1929, ps. 13-14).
[38] There was an “exhibition of antiquities excavated at Ur during the season 1927-8” in June [1927] “and continued open till the end of October, in the Assyrian Basement. This was by far the finest exhibition from the remarkably successful excavations at Ur that has hitherto been shown. Mr. Woolley´s discoveries during the past season have been even more sensational than those of 1926-7, and the comparison made last year with finds in the Tutankhamen tomb and the shaft-graves at Mycenae is even more apposite this year.” (HALL, H.R.: “The Excavations at Ur”, The British Museum Quarterly, III, 3 (1928), p. 65). Another annual exhibition at the British Museum opened on the 5th July 1928, “by which date most of the work of restoration and repair had been done.” (WOOLLEY, Ch. Leonard: “Excavations at Ur, 1928-9”, The Antiquaries Journal, IX, 4(1929), p. 306).
[39] A letter by Frederic Kenyon, director of the British Museum, addressed to Mrs. McHugh, on the 12th April 1928, was announcing an exhibition on the Ur finds for June. In a later letter, from 30rd May, Frederic Kenyon fixed the opening on the 20th June (UPennMuseum Archives, Philadelphia, [Correspondence- Exp. VI. Jan-Jun. 1928])
[40] The exhibition, prepared by the archaeologist Max Mallowan, in spite of Woolley´s doubts about his capacities, was first shown in Baghdad for “political reasons” (Letter to Kenyon by Woolley, 6th March 1929, The British Museum Archives, London, CE32/28/22/1)
[41] Philadelphia Inquirer, 25th May 1929: “Ur Relics on view. Exhibition Open to public at the University of Pennsylvania today: priceless wealth of exquisitely wrought jewellery, chalices, alabaster lamps (found during the seventh season (…) The image of the Queen, surmounted by a crown more beautiful than any ever brought from the soil of the East” was included.
[42] EVANS, Jean M.: The Lives of Sumerian Sculpture. An Archaeology of the Early Dynastic Temple, Cambridge University Press, 2012, p. 2. In a letter to Miss McHugh, on the 1st June 1928, Woolley wrote that his wife had modelled “a Sumerian woman´s head, based on an actual skull”.
[43] If the newspapers were right –we have not to doubt about the news-, Mr. and Mrs Woolley were not alone in the restoration of the Ur jewellery. “(They) were able to string them [beads (that) had been undisturbed through centuries (with) only the thread rotting away], temporarily, on the spot. But the real labour fell to the [University] Museum [of Archaeology and Anthropology] women here who have been doing work of this type for several years…” (“University Museum Aides Restring Beads of Shu-Bad of ur After Woolley Near East Expedition Finds Treasures. Mrs. Loring Dam, Docent, and Her Assistant [Miss Elizabeth Creaghead] Piece Together 300 Strings of Carnelian, Lapis Lazuli, Agate and Gold Gems”, Philadelphia Bulletin, 1st June 1929, UPennMuseum Archives, Philadelphia, [Pubs. Exhibit Cata./Coll. Guides. Royal Tombs of Ur of the Chaldees, Exhibits from the (~1934)]).  Since then, the Queen Puabi´s outfit at the UPennMuseum has been mantled and dismantled quite a few times, we would dare to say following new discoveries or thoughts and changes of taste as years have passed by. The face, the expression of the model (or fashion model) have changed too. The Museum of the Pennsylvania University displayed Queen Puabi´s accoutrement on a model fashioned by Leon Legrain who disliked the one that Katherine Woolley created and that might never have been sent to the States due to its fragility. Nowadays, the present model, shown in the exhibition, is disturbingly faceless, emotionless, like a haunting de Chirico mannequin.
We have to be aware that Mr. and Mrs Woolley received financial support and help to restore the Ur jewellery from a known British jeweller and seller, James Richard Ogden (who also did the electrotype copies of some of the most important finds at the Royal Tombs of Ur that were given then to the Museums, supporting the archaeological mission, that did not received the copied original items). Mr. Ogden could have helped to shape the “myth” or the image of the “Ur treasure”, jointly the Woolley (MILLERMAN, Alison: “Interpreting the royal cemetery of Ur metalwork: a contemporary perspective from the archives of James R. Ogden”, Iraq, 70 (2008), ps. 1-12).
 [44] Letter to Miss McHugh by C. Leonard Woolley, 11th July 1928.
[45] A booklet (15x9 cm) was published (UPennMuseum Archives [Pubs. Exhibit Cata./ Coll. Guides. Royal Tombs of ur of the Chaldees, exhibits from the (~1934)]
[46] As some examples, by the Philadelphia Inquirer of 22nd February 1934: “3400 BC Jewellery Put on Exhibition. Chaldean Ornaments Dedicated to Public at Store Ceremony” (Chaldean was a much more popular word than Sumerian even if it designated in fact late Babylonian material); The Public Ledger, from Philadelphia, of the same date, wrote: “Many of the varied designs of modern costume jewellery are almost exact copies of jewellery worm 5000 years ago at Ur of the Chaldees. Dr. Lucy L.W. Wilson, principal of the South Philadelphia High School for Girls and winner of the 1934 Boko Award, pointed out today at a luncheon in the Strawbridge & Clothier store”. The commentary about modernity of Ur jewellery and, so its capacity to coincide with modern taste is important because, in fact, Ur jewellery was, in a way… modern, as it had been stringed at the Ur mission following nothing but Katherine Woolley´s taste, as there was no complete sample to be used as a model. The Philadelphia Record, from the 22nd February 1934 too, announced: “Royal Jewellery 5000 Years Old on Exhibition”.
 [48] Philadelphia Bulletin, 22nd February 1934 (UPennMuseum Archives, Philadelphia [Pubs. Exhibit Cata./…], Op. cit.)
[49] Philadelphia Inquirer, 22nd February 1934 (UPennMuseum Archives, Philadelphia, Op. Cit.).
[50] The bibliography on “the Sumerian problem” is large.  See, for instance, COOPER, Jeremy, “¿Eran los sumerios sumerios?”, AZARA, Pedro (ed.), Antes del diluvio. Mesopotamia 3500-2100 aC, Op. Cit., ps. 60-63.
[51] The word race, which sounds inevitably suspicious when read in a text written between both World Wars, was heavily used in the Field Museum-Oxford University archaeological mission to Kish publications. Skulls found in tombs were studied by the anthropologist Penniman, from Oxford, in order to distinguish, among the inhabitants of the ancient city, different races. Eurafrican, Mediterranean and Armenoid types, characterised sometimes negatively (the Mediterranean people “have small ill-filled dolichocephalic skulls, with brow-ridges poorly developed or absent…”) were established, as if three different “races” were living in south of Mesopotamia (PENNIMAN, T.K.: “A note on the Inhabitants of Kish before the Great Flood”, WATELIN, Louis-Charles, LANGDON, Stephen, Excavations at Kish, Volume IV, 1925-1930, Paris, Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1934).
[52] Op. Cit., ps. 131-136.
[53] This watercolour, that belongs to the Oriental Institute Archives, Chicago, is included in the present exhibition.
[54] Some other Ancient Near Eastern antiquities were shown in the Hall of Religion.
[56] Evans has rightly pointed out that the Diyala finds of statues of worshippers had the chance of being studied by Henri Frankfort who was an art historian and was able to look at the material as if it belonged to the world of art, and placed these Sumerian statues at the origin of the (western) art. Henri Frankfort published, for instance, Sculpture of the Third Millennium B.C. from Tell Asmar and Khafãjah, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1939. But Christian Zervos, a well-known modern art defender, who established the corpus of Picasso´s works,, had already published a monography (based only on the Mesopotamian collections of the Musée du Louvre and the British Museum), called L´Art de la Mésopotamie, in 1935: “ce volume est le deuxième de la série consacrée aux arts de la haute époque dont le plan d´ensemble vise à l´intelligence des bases fondamentales de l´art et des lois constantes qui le gouvernent (…) je me propose de montrer un art puissant, né à l´aurore de la civilisation et qui a eu les répercutions les plus considérables » (Explications). Something similar happened with the Ur finds. Written commentaries by Charles Leonard Woolley of the different items excavated at Ur, by the vocabulary he was choosing, belonging to the realm of the history and the theory of art, show that he was practising a formal lecture of the items, considered “applied arts” in some cases, and “sculptures” in others. The transubstantiation of Sumerian items into works of art began just after their discovery. In fact, before the finds, they were expected to be, and then interpreted as works of art. This displacement from the handicrafts and magical or sacred world to the world of art implied that Sumerian items had inevitably to be compared, not with disadvantage when Sumerian art was its best, with Greek items. See, for instance, in C. Leonard Woolley: “New Examples of Early Sumerian Art”, London Illustrated News, 1926 (a typewritten copy at the British Museum archives, London, WY1/3/4), how the author moves in the frame of the world of art. Statues are judged following mimetic criteria, which means that some are considered parodies of the model -“as a work of art [sic] it does not come in the first class”- while in others Woolley appreciates “the tender modelling of the flesh thrown into relief by the dignified convention of the hair”.    
[57] Some scholars think that to consider as works of art only items created after Kant´s definition of what a work of art is, at the end of the 18th century, is a sin of ethnocentrism. They affirm that there were ancient items, for instance Sumerian ones, which were perceived as beautiful ones, which aesthetics qualities, intentionally created, were not unnoticed, which means that the Kantian notion of art as a production of aesthetically –or beautiful- relevant items can or has to be applied to ancient, and not only to western modern ones (See, for instance, BAHRANI, Zainab: The Infinite Image. Art, time and Aesthetic Dimension in Antiquity, Reaktion Books, London, 2014, or LAUDE, Jean  –an article on “primitive”, and not on ancient “art”-: “Art et mythe.  Formes de la fonction signifiante dans l´Afrique sub-saharienne”  BONNEFOY, Yves (ed.): Dictionnaire des mythologies, Flammarion, Paris, 1981, ps. 74-78). This is true. It must be no coincidence that artists or artisans working for the imperial or royal courts were far more skilled and had better “taste” or more “sensibility” (if we follow our modern, and maybe ancient, judgement). But these ancient items were not created for the sole pleasure of the senses nor for the embodiment of sensible qualities, as in modern European art. They were fulfilling other clear functions. Works of art, for Kant, were not gratuitous, too, but the function they had to follow was not and could not be explicit: they had a non-functional function. Works of art should not be like political art, as defined by Marcel Proust: they should not be like a present where the sign of its price remains ostensibly visible. Art should not have a clear function; it should look as if it has been created for nothing, as if it has been created just to please the observer for no visible reason (even if, in fact, its function is to help reason to catch an idea embodied in the sensible or visible shape). Maybe a nuanced consideration about ancient “works of art” and modern ones was given by Hans-Georg Gadamer (Truth and Method, Bloomsbury, 2013 -1st ed. in German, 1960): an ancient item becomes a work of art (as defined by Kant) when it is displayed (to be appreciated for its aesthetic qualities; but, nevertheless, it does not lose its magical qualities and functions, as Jean Genêt had already felt when visiting the Egyptian Antiquities Department at the Louvre Museum in Paris in the early fifties (GENÊT, Jean: L´atelier d´Alberto Giacometti, Marc Barbezat, Paris, 1958).      
[58] “The necklaces (…) are so lovely and artistic [sic] that Milady of 1934 would be glad to wear them” (Philadelphia Bulletin, 22nd February 1934, Op. Cit.).
[59] This word that belongs to the Christian theological vocabulary denotes an item that changes substantially without changing physically or visibly. It is used to describe what happens when the communion bread and wine are changed into the flesh and blood of Christ during a ritual, the Eucharist. This word was used in the known Arthur Coleman Danto´s book, The Transfiguration of the Common Place, published in 1986, dedicated to the problem of what is art when everything can be art (under certain circumstances).

[60] A Gudea head drawn on paper by Giacometti illustrates the front page of the Claudia E. Sutter monograph (published in 2000) on the Gudea ancient image: Gudea's Temple Building: The Representation of an Early Mesopotamian Ruler in Text and Image.

[61] On the relation between Henry Moore (and Barbara Hepworth) theory of art and sculptures, and Sumerian worshipper statues, see: WOOD, Jon: “Gods, graves and sculptors: Gudea, Sumerian sculpture, and the avant-garde, c. 1930-1935”, Sculpture Journal, X (2003), ps. 67-82.
[62] Some recent exhibitions on Moore´s work have included a few Sumerian sculptures in order to show visually the formal relationship between ancient and modern items.
[63] The beat poet Charles Olson, professor at the “mythical” Black Mountain College, was also influenced by Sumerian art in the fifties. Some of the metrical structure and themes of his poems and short essays (taken from the Gilgamesh epic) show the impact of the lecture and appreciation of Samuel Noah Kramer´s translation of Sumerian myths and texts.
[64] Henry Moore sculptures: Woman With Clasped Hands (1929), Girl With Clasped Hands (1930), Girl (1931);   Alberto Giacometti drawings:  Study  after a Sumerian Sculpture: Goudea, Study After a Sumerian Sculpture: Head of Ekur, Drawing After the Head of Goudea and a Cycladic idol, Drawing of a Sumerian Sculpture in the British Museum, Still Life with Gudea Head, etc.;  Barbara Hepworth sculpture: Figure of a woman (1929-30)

No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario