Aesthetics of the natural environment in the arts of the Ancient Near East: the Elamite rock-cut sanctuary of Kurangun

Javier Álvarez-Mon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


A little-studied aspect of the range of meanings assigned to ancient Near Eastern art concerns the association between artistic manufacture and the natural environment. In this essay I analyze the Elamite open-air sanctuary of Kurangun to suggest that this association takes place at the aesthetic level. The sanctuary was carved 80 m high on a rock-cliff overlooking the Fahliyān River as it flows through the panoramic Mamasani region of southwestern Fārs, Iran. It was originally created around 1650 BCE, with subsequent additions made during the Neo-Elamite period (ca. 1000-525 BCE). In general terms, allocating aesthetic agency to the natural environment means that localized landscape features such as caves, rivers, hot springs, trees, rocks, lakes, or mountains could be the source of affective qualities that engage the senses, the attention, and the intellect, and that are bound in time and space to specific cultural sensibilities and thus can be foundations for, and key determinants of, concentrated artistic endeavour. In particular, this essay seeks to provide key theoretical foundations to argue in favor of the participatory role that aesthetics of the natural environment play in the creation of Elamite art. The idea that the sanctuary of Kurangun was conceived of and materialized as the artistic expression of such an undertaking is further explained in terms of belief-systems that perceived the natural environment as the active medium in which life and human creativity integrated and came to identity.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCritical Approaches to Ancient Near Eastern Art
EditorsBrian A. Brown, Marian H. Feldman
Place of PublicationBoston; Berlin
PublisherDe Gruyter
Number of pages32
ISBN (Electronic)9781614510352
ISBN (Print)9781614510291
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


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