Artwork: Human–headed winged lion (Lamassu); 883–859 B.C.; Neo–Assyrian period, reign of Ashurnasirpal II; Excavated at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), northern Mesopotamia; Alabaster (gypsum); H. 10 ft. 3 1/2 in.
13th November 2014
Ashurnasipal II – Human-headed Winged Lion (Lamassu)
Ashunasipal II was one of the great, if not the greatest, king of Assyria and ruled from 883-859 B.C.E.. He was one of the earliest conquers of Assyria and he gained territory as far west as the Mediterranean. After he gained the land of Assyria, he turned ancient Kalhu into Nimrund, which he then made the capital. This capital was about 900 acres surrounded by a mud-brick wall. The wall was 42 feet high, 120 feet thick and five miles long. In the southwest corner of this blockaded area were temples, palaces, and administrative offices. After everything was finished in 879 B.C.E., Ashurnasipal II held a festival where 69,574 people attended, to celebrate the completion of their new capital. An inscription documenting that day stated, ‘“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.’”(Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Ashrunasipal II’s human headed winged lion reliefs are crumbled today but they stand in the Metropolitan Museum of Art rebuilt and standing are standing strong with pride. Made in 879 B.C.E. these, over ten feet tall, creatures were designed to guard the palace. They were put at the entrance of the throne room. Large statues, like the Lamassi, were often used, and still are, to protect people and buildings of importance. This throne
room was designed with different reliefs on the walls showing the king and his attendants interacting with guardians depicted as supernatural figures. The lamassi, as they are called, in the doorway of the room show their guardianship with their horned caps that signify their divine nature and the belt that portrays their power (Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art). One figure is a bull with a human head and the other a lion with a human head. These animals alone show strength and power. The lion with his natural ability of hunting, and the bull showing is strengths with his horns and his power to charge at an enemy are both mixed with the human head for human intelligence. The idea of mixing humans with animals made them even more powerful.
Ashurnasipal II wanted these creatures to guard this room, as well as the rest of the palace. With them standing so strongly in the doorway of the throne room, which showed other reliefs of Ashunasipal II and guardian-like figures, one could think that these lamassi were also protecting him from losing his role as ruler, and his contact with ones of higher power than himself. In an inscription written about the palace, it says, ‘“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.’”(Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art). These reliefs are two different reliefs in one. The head, all the way down to the front feet of the creatures, is high relief, meaning they stick out very far from the original material. The body however, is low to medium relief, meaning it does not stick out as much. The detail on all the reliefs are incredible, especially the winged guardians. There
is such intricate detail for the wings and the face and hair. Each curl of the beard is much like a pattern but is extremely intricate, the feathers on the wings resemble feathers but remain to look much like a patter as well. The feathers look very much as if they were the same one that was just twisted and turned, and shrunk and enlarged to make a full...
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