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Human-headed winged bull and winged lion (lamassu)

Period:
Neo-Assyrian
Date:
ca. 883–859 B.C.
Geography:
Mesopotamia, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu)
Culture:
Assyrian
Medium:
Gypsum alabaster
Dimensions:
H. 10 ft. 3 1/2 in. (313.7 cm)
Classification:
Stone-Reliefs-Inscribed
Credit Line:
Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1932
Accession Number:
32.143.1–.2
  • Description

    From the ninth to the seventh century B.C., the kings of Assyria ruled over a vast empire centered in northern Iraq. The great Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (r. 883–859 B.C.) undertook a vast building program at Nimrud, ancient Kalhu. Until it became the capital city under Ashurnasirpal, Nimrud had been no more than a provincial town.


    The new capital occupied an area of about nine hundred acres, around which Ashurnasirpal constructed a mudbrick wall that was 120 feet thick, 42 feet high, and five miles long. In the southwest corner of this enclosure was the acropolis, where the temples, palaces, and administrative offices of the empire were located. In 879 B.C. Ashurnasirpal held a festival for 69,574 people to celebrate the construction of the new capital, and the event was documented by an inscription that read: "...the happy people of all the lands together with the people of Kalhu—for ten days I feasted, wined, bathed, and honored them and sent them back to their home in peace and joy."



    The so-called Standard Inscription that ran across the surface of most of the reliefs described Ashurnasirpal's palace: "I built thereon [a palace with] halls of cedar, cypress, juniper, boxwood, teak, terebinth, and tamarisk [?] as my royal dwelling and for the enduring leisure life of my lordship." The inscription continues: "Beasts of the mountains and the seas, which I had fashioned out of white limestone and alabaster, I had set up in its gates. I made it [the palace] fittingly imposing." Such limestone beasts are the human-headed, winged bull and lion pictured here. The horned cap attests to their divinity, and the belt signifies their power. The sculptor gave these guardian figures five legs so that they appear to be standing firmly when viewed from the front but striding forward when seen from the side. These lamassu protected and supported important doorways in Assyrian palaces.

  • Provenance

    1840s, excavated by Sir Austen Henry Layard; 1849, presented by Austen Layard to Lady Charlotte Guest for Canford Manor, Dorsetshire, England; 1919, purchased by Dikran Kelekian from Ivor Churchill Guest; 1927, purchased by J. D. Rockefeller; acquired by the Museum in 1930 (but not accessioned until 1932), gift of J. D. Rockefeller.

  • References

    Budge, Ernest A.W., and Leonard W. King. 1902. Annals of the Kings of Assyria. Volume I. London: Trustees of the British Museum, pp. 189-205.

    Winlock, H.E. 1933. "A New Chapter in the Museum's History of Art." Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 28 (2), pp. 17ff, fig. 1.

    Gadd, Cyril J. 1936. The Stones of Assyria. London: Chatto and Windus, p. 127.

    Porada, Edith. 1945. "The Assyrians in the Last Hundred Years." Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 4 (1), p. 46.

    Porada, Edith, and Susanna Hare. 1946. The Great King...King of Assyria: Assyrians Reliefs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 8.

    Glubock, Shirley. 1963. The Art of Lands in the Bible. New York: Atheneum, pp. 26-27.

    Crawford, Vaughn et al. 1966. Guide to the Ancient Near East Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 18, fig. 29.

    Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1972. Guide to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 49, fig. 15.

    Meuszyński, Janusz. 1976. Die Reliefs von Aššur-nasir-apli II. Die Sammlungen außerhalb des Irak. Archäologischer Anzeiger. Berlin: W. de Gruyter, p. 471.

    Crawford, Vaughn, Prudence O. Harper, and Holly Pittman. 1980. Assyrian Reliefs and Ivories in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 25-26, figs. 17-18.

    Hibbard, Howard. 1980. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Harper and Row, pp. 53-56, fig. 118.

    Meuszynski, Janusz. 1981. Die Rekonstruktion der Reliefdarstellungen und ihrer Anordnung im Nordwestpalast von Kalhu (Nimrud) I. Baghdader Forschungen, Bd. 2. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern, pp. 49, 84.

    Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1983. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, edited by Kathleen Howard. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 55, fig. 24.

    Paley, Samuel M., and Richard P. Sobolewski. 1987. The Reconstruction of the Relief Representations and Their Positions in the Northwest-Palace at Kalhu (Nimrud) II. Baghdader Forschungen, Bd.10, Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern, pp. 35, 49, 90.

    Paley, Samuel M., and Richard P. Sobolewski. 1992. The Reconstruction of the Relief Representations and Their Positions in the Northwest-Palace at Kalhu (Nimrud) III. Baghdader Forschungen, Bd.14, Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern, p. 35.

    Russell, John M. 1997. From Nineveh to New York. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 67-69, figs. 40-41.

    Bohrer, F. 1998. "Inventing Assyria." Art Bulletin 80 (2), p. 343, fig. 3.

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