Theses Doctoral

Seals, Identity and Patronage in the Ancient Near East (ca. 1550-1050 BC)

Yalcin, Serdar

Numerous art historians and anthropologists such as Rudolf Wittkower, Michael Baxandal and Alfred Gell have addressed the question of how art reflected the people by and for whom it was produced in the context of different cultures and periods. In my dissertation, I intend to contribute to this discussion through a study of two hundred and sixteen Mesopotamian and Syrian seals and seal impressions. Made of a variety of precious and semi-precious materials such as stones or metals, and carved with detailed designs and pictorial images, seals are some of the most distinctive types of ancient Near Eastern art, and were widely diffused in the society. The seals studied in this dissertation originally belonged to the individuals, from royalty to special cooks, representing different segments of the society, and are dated to the second half of the second millennium BC. I carried out a detailed analysis of the material, inscriptions, images on these objects and their context of use. This analysis shows that the seals that belonged to royal and non-royal individuals such as princes, priests/priestesses, scribes, doctors, singers, tax collectors and other temple and state officials may indicative of certain aspects of their owners' identity such as social class, profession and gender. Additionally, most of these seals were not mass-produced, but unique items created according to the choices of individual patrons. However, it was still possible to recognize the works of different craftsmen especially in the seals from Babylonia and Assyria through their distinctive styles. In this sense, Near Eastern seals were complex works of art in which the stylistic inputs of craftsmen were fused with the iconographic and compositional choices of the patrons, who commissioned them. These different choices, in return, might have signified the social class, gender, professional affiliation, and even political ambitions of the ancient seal owners.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Bahrani, Zainab
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014