Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Relief panel

Period:
Neo-Assyrian
Date:
ca. 883–859 B.C.
Geography:
Mesopotamia, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu)
Culture:
Assyrian
Medium:
Gypsum alabaster
Dimensions:
25 1/4 x 31 1/2 x 3 in., 140lb. (64.1 x 80 x 7.6 cm, 63.5kg)
Classification:
Stone-Reliefs
Credit Line:
Gift of Benjamin Brewster, 1884
Accession Number:
84.11
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 401
This panel from the Northwest Palace at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu) depicts a winged supernatural figure. Such figures appear throughout the palace, sometimes flanking either the figure of the Assyrian king or a stylized "sacred tree." The reliefs were painted, but today almost none of the original pigment survives. However, the reliefs themselves retain incredible detail, including intricate incised designs on many of the figures’ clothing.

The figures are supernatural but do not represent any of the great gods. Rather, they are part of the vast supernatural population that for ancient Mesopotamians animated every aspect of the world. They appear as either eagle-headed or human-headed and wear a horned crown to indicate divinity. Both types of figure usually have wings. Because of their resemblance to groups of figurines buried under doorways for protection whose identities are known through ritual texts, it has been suggested that the figures in the palace reliefs represent the apkallu, wise sages from the distant past. This may indeed be one level of their symbolism, but protective figures of this kind are likely to have held multiple meanings and mythological connections.

Figures such as these continued to be depicted in later Assyrian palaces, though less frequently. Only in the Northwest Palace do they form such a dominant feature of the relief program.

Donated in 1884, this was the earliest Assyrian relief to enter the Museum’s collection. Originally part of a much larger panel, it shows the head, shoulder, and part of the wing of a human-headed figure facing left. The horned cap indicates divinity, and the long, elaborate beard is similar to that of the Assyrian king. The figure wears a large pendant earring and a collar comprising two bands of beads with spacers. The right side of the panel preserves the edge of another wing, showing that this figure was originally arranged back to back with another, also in the Metropolitan Museum (17.190.2082).
1858, acquired by Dr. Henri Byron Haskell, Mosul; about 1860, gift to his brother-in-law, Benjamin Brewster, New York; acquired by the Museum in 1884, gift of Benjamin Brewster.
Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 15, 1884, p. 297.

Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1904. The Stone Sculptures of the Cesnola Collection of Cypriote Antiquities in Halls 14, 18, and 19. Handbook no. 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 1838, p. 113.

Louchheim, Aline B. 1949. “Near-Eastern Art Placed on Display: Metropolitan Shows Works That Date to 5,000 Years Ago -- Diverse Races Covered.” The New York Times, p. 19.

Stearns, John B. 1961. Reliefs from the Palace of Ashurnaṣirpal II. Archiv für Orientforschung, Beiheft 15, pp. 15, 35, 63, pl. 38.

Hase, Friedrich-Wilhelm von. 1972. "Zum Fragment eines orientalischen Bronzeflügels aus Vetulonia." Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilung 79, p. 157, pls. 82-83.

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. 16-18, fig. 10,17.

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. 50-53, 90, pl. 4,18, plan 2.5 [Panel incorrectly labelled A-II-a-i-14].
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