CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- The Harvard Semitic Museum
is reimagining its grand third-floor atrium gallery, featuring the arts of ancient Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). This first installment showcases newly fabricated casts from the ancient scenes that once adorned Mesopotamian palace walls. Meticulously created by museum curators and Harvard students, these relief sculptures show how the ancient kings commemorated their military triumphs and civic achievements. For ancient audiences, these scenes presented powerful royal propaganda. For modern audiences, they reveal great artistry and important glimpses into life in the ancient Near East.
Nimrud North West Palace Reliefs
These stone reliefs are from the Throne Room of the North West Palace at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), near Mosul in modern Iraq. The Assyrian king Assurnasüirpal II (reigned 883859 B.C.) built the palace and commissioned the reliefs. The originals, discovered in the nineteenth century, are now in the British Museum; Harvard has casts of the reliefs acquired in the 1890s. The remains of the palace itself were destroyed by ISIS in 2015.
Nimrud was the center of the Assyrian empire, and the Throne Room was the kings Oval Office, the main audience hall where he received official visitors. The Throne Room reliefs were part of a much larger group of wall carvings that decorated multiple rooms in the palace. The reliefs showed the king as a man of action, defeating his enemies, worshipping his gods, and hunting wild beasts, symbolically overcoming both nature and Assyrias adversaries. Such visual imagery, heavily laden with royal propaganda, served to enhance the kings reputation and advertise his might.
Detail of a melee during a large battle. An Assyrian soldier stabs an opponent with his dagger as a comrade attempts to pull him to safety. Elsewhere enemies are trampled beneath onrushing chariots. In the upper left corner, a god in a winged sun-disc fires an arrow, demonstrating Assyrias divine right to rule over all.
Chariot, Driver, and Bowman
From his war chariot an Assyrian archer looses an arrow at the enemy while the driver guides the team of horses. At right an enemy soldier, already wounded, collapses.
The king is shown hunting wild animals from his chariot. Here he takes aim at a lion, the king of beasts. The lion is depicted as a mighty, savage and proud beast. Though already struck by three arrows, it continues to threaten the king in his chariot.
This relief depicts a semi-divine figure with wings and a horned helmet holding an unidentified plant. Many such figures appeared in the original wall art of the palace of Ashurnasirpal II.