Detroit Institute of Arts to Open New Gallery of Ancient Middle Eastern Art

Snake-Dragon, Symbol of Marduk, the Patron God of Babylon. Panel from the
Ishtar Gate, 604-562 BCE, glazed earthenware bricks. Detroit Institute of Arts.
Gallery of ancient objects from Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Yemen and Armenia opens Dec. 22

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 (pictured here), 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.

Hours and Admission
Museum hours are 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Fridays, and 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, $4 for ages 6-17, and free for DIA members. For membership information call 313-833-7971.

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), one of the premier art museums in the United States, is home to more than 60,000 works that comprise a multicultural survey of human creativity from ancient times through the 21st century. From the first van Gogh painting to enter a U.S. museum (Self-Portrait, 1887), to Diego Rivera's world-renowned Detroit Industry murals (1932–33), the DIA's collection is known for its quality, range, and depth. As the DIA celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2010, it does so with renewed commitment to its visitor-centered experience and to its mission of creating opportunities for all visitors to find personal meaning in art.

Programs are made possible in part with support from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, National Endowment for the Arts and the City of Detroit.