Blues & Greens

Years ago, in my art history studies of ancient Babylon, and encountering the images of the Ishtar gate, I was amazed. It was almost a solid indigo! Or so it seemed. A few years later, I went to New York and visited the Met with the specific intention of seeing the Lamassu. What I didn’t expect was the lion gate which was (as I recall) just around the corner (so to speak). I was amazed at the size of the lion and of course, again, attracted to those brilliant blue-green tiles.  It only reinforced my love of the color.

The Met’s write up says, The most important street in Babylon was the Processional Way, leading from the inner city through the Ishtar Gate to the Bit Akitu, or “House of the New Year’s Festival.” The Ishtar Gate, built by Nebuchadnezzar II, was a glazed-brick structure decorated with figures of bulls and dragons, symbols of the weather god Adad and of Marduk. North of the gate the roadway was lined with glazed figures of striding lions. This relief of a lion, the animal associated with Ishtar, goddess of love and war, served to protect the street; its repeated design served as a guide for the ritual processions from the city to the temple. Here there is no mention of the color in these tiles.  And my textbook (Art Across Time by Adams), only uses the the word “blue” but there is a description of the glazing process.

However, in Blue, The History of Color by Michael Pastoureau says, In the ancient languages of the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin, the language barrier separating green and blue is often fluid. This is manifest in their artwork, specifically in the glazing and enameling where the two colors were juxtaposed or melded.

This also brings to mind a similarity in Japanese language. Often (depending on the context), ao 青(blue) is also used as meaning green. I don’t know that they make this apparent though in their use of color.

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