Height: 195 cm
Width: 433 cm
Excavated by Austen Henry Layard, 1845-7
Room 7-8: Assyria: Nimrud
Stone relief from the throne room of Ashurnasirpal II
Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), northern Iraq
Neo-Assyrian, 870–860 BC
This Assyrian relief comes from the throne room of the so-called North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 883-859 BC) at Nimrud in northern Iraq. It was originally positioned behind the king’s throne.
Ashurnasirpal himself appears twice, shown from two sides, dressed in ritual robes and holding a mace symbolising his authority. The figure of the king on the right makes a gesture of worship to a god in a winged disk in the top centre of the relief. The god, who is the source of the king’s power, may be Ashur, the national god, or Shamash, the god of the sun and justice. He holds a ring in one hand, an ancient Mesopotamian symbol of god-given kingship. The figure of the king on the left appears to gesture towards a so-called Sacred Tree which dominates the centre of the relief. This balanced combination of steams and foliage is a symbol of fertility and abundance given by the gods.
Behind the king, on either side of the relief, is a winged protective spirit who blesses and purifies Ashurnasirpal using a cone-shaped object to sprinkle liquid from a ritual bucket. The relief thus summarises visually the main ideas of Assyrian kingship; he is the source of abundance provided by the gods.
Ancient visitors approaching the enthroned king would have thus seen three royal figures, the living king facing them, and, either side of him, two carved images showing Ashurnasirpal’s relationship with the gods. Emerging from behind the king himself would be the Sacred-Tree.
There was another almost identical relief opposite the main door of the throne room, and similar scenes occupied prominent positions in other Assyrian palaces. They were also embroidered on the royal clothes.
J.E. Reade, Assyrian sculpture (London, The British Museum Press, 1983)