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Christie's to auction 3,000-year-old Assyrian relief from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II
An Assyrian gypsum relief of a Winged Genius. Reign of Ashurnasirpal II, circa 883-859 BC 7 ft 4 in x 6 ft 5 in (223.5 x 195.5 cm). Estimate on request. © Christie’s Images Limited 2018.

NEW YORK, NY.- Christie’s announced an important Assyrian relief will highlight the Antiquities sale on 31 October in New York as part of Classic Week (estimate on request). The finest example of Assyrian art to come to the market in decades, the work will be sold on behalf of the Virginia Theological Seminary to underwrite a scholarship fund.

According to G. Max Bernheimer, International Department Head of Antiquities, “This Assyrian relief is without question the most exquisite to come to the market in more than a generation, in terms of the style, condition and subject. The last example, sold by Christie’s London, was the Canford School relief which depicted two figures that were only preserved from the waist up, while here we have a complete figure, perfectly-preserved from head to toe. The Canford School relief set a world-record in 1994 when it sold for nearly $12 million. The Virginia Theological Seminary acquired this relief through the American missionary Dr. Henri Byron Haskell (1781-1864) in 1859, who bought it directly from Sir Austen Henry Layard, the excavator of the royal palace at Nimrud. The relief arrived in Alexandria in 1860, making it one of the earliest-known examples of ancient art to reach American soil.”

The imposing large-scale Assyrian gypsum stone relief is over 7 feet tall and once adorned the walls of the massive Northwest Palace commissioned by King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.) at Nimrud in modern-day Iraq. The royal palace was one of the largest in antiquity, reflecting Ashurnasirpal’s status as the most powerful ruler of the largest empire ever seen, spanning much of the “cradle of civilization.”

The relief depicts a Winged Genius, a deity also known as an Apkallu, holding a bucket and a cone-shaped object, signifying fertility and protection for the king. The Apkallu has feathered wings and wears elaborately detailed robes, a horned headdress, an earring, a necklace and armlets, and has two daggers and a whetstone tucked into fabric folds at his waist. The work is in excellent condition and skillfully carved with superb details, nearly all preserved, offering a glimpse into past – showing the human form, costume and jewelry from nearly 3,000 years ago.

One of the earliest-known works of ancient art sent to the United States, the frieze was acquired in Mosul in 1859 by an American missionary named Dr. Henri Byron Haskell from the English archaeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard, who had unearthed the royal palace at Nimrud. In addition to this relief, which has been housed at the Virginia Theological Seminary since 1860, Haskell also sent five other examples to Bowdoin College in Maine and another which is now housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Other institutions and approximately 60 museums around the world contain reliefs from Ashurnasirpal’s palace, including the British Museum, the Brooklyn Museum and the Yale University Art Gallery.

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