- Museum number
Vase; Parian porcelain; in the form of the head of a human-headed bull with name impressed on the front of the plinth.
- Production date
- 1882 (made)
Height: 16.70 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- See also 1985,0308.2-3
See also 1987,0109.1-2
See also 1989,0508.1
Text from J. Rudoe, 'Decorative Arts 1850-1950. A catalogue of the British Museum collection', 2nd ed. 1994. no. 48.
The Assyrian sculptures discovered by Henry Layard at Nimrud between 1845 and 1851 and subsequently by his successors at Nineveh created a sensation when they were put on display at the British Museum during the late 1840s and 1850s. When the Crystal Palace was moved from Hyde Park to Sydenham in south London, casts of the Nimrud reliefs and the colossal winged bulls and lions were installed in a 'Nineveh Court', so called after Layard's Monuments of Nineveh, vol. 1, published in 1849. Layard initially thought he had discovered Nineveh, and so although this volume describes Nimrud, Nineveh was the name that caught the public imagination.
Hays and Jarvis both worked at the British Museum as attendants, Hays from 1845 to 1876 and Jarvis from 1869 to 1900. Little else is known about them, though when Jarvis retired at sixty his pension was reduced for 'grave misconduct', but the nature of his misdemeanour is not recorded. Hays appears to have been an amateur sculptor; as part of his application for employment in 1845 he submitted a number of sketches, mainly of sculpture, and a letter of recommendation from Richard Westmacott, who had recently designed the pedimental sculpture for the façade of the Museum. Hays exhibited the three standing figures of Sennacherib, Sardanapalus and his queen at the International Exhibition in London of 1871; the statuettes, dated 1868 in the exhibition catalogue, cost £1 10s. each (Official Catalogue, Fine Arts Department, Sculpture, nos 2564-6). Initially the series comprised these three figures only; the Nimrod vase and the winged gateway figures, together with a lion weight and a relief plaque of Ashurbanipal and his queen in a garden scene, were added later.
For a figure of Sennacherib marked 'A Hays Pub. March 1868. Regd. Feb 25th 868' see Atterbury, P. ed. 'The Parian Phenomenon', Shipton Beauchamp 1989, 174, pl. 568. A notice in The Athenaeum, 6 July 1878, 17, describes the same three figures as 'a trio of statuettes in porcelain representing Sardanapalus and his queen, and the great King Sennacherib. The Statues . . . will be issued to a limited number of subscribers by Mr. Jarvis, of 43, Willes Road, N.W., who has obtained from Mr. Hays the right of reproducing them.' It does not mention any additions, but according to press opinions quoted in a publicity leaflet issued by Jarvis in 1893, the Nimrod head and the small lion weight (Atterbury, ed. 1989, 174, pl. 569) were in production by 1878. The winged bull and lion book-ends were certainly in production by 1882, the date of the British Museum examples. A pair of similar figures owned by Bolton Art Gallery is also dated 1882, and the figures are mentioned in a press notice of 1883 quoted in the publicity leaflet printed by Jarvis when the series was re-issued in 1893. By this time it had acquired the eighth and last piece: a relief plaque of a garden scene in the palace of Ashurbanipal. According to Atterbury ed., 137 and 175, pl. 570, the relief plaque was modelled by the sculptor and water-colour painter Owen Hale, and was first issued in 1886, ten years after Hays had left the British Museum. The Bolton Art Gallery holds an example dated May 1886 with a design registration number for that year. The prices listed in 1893 are the same as they were in 1868. The statuettes were still selling at £1 10s. each; the winged bull and lion sold for £2 2s. and Nimrod's head for 10s. The complete series of eight works cost £11.
In his leaflet Jarvis claimed the patronage of 'Her Majesty the Queen; H.I.H. The Grand Duke Constantine of Russia; Science and Art Museum, Dublin; Chadwick Museum, Bolton; Sheffield Museum; Astor Library, New York; Smithsonian Institution, U.S.A.; and various other public institutions'. These patrons had presumably subscribed to the whole series; a complete set is held by the Bolton Art Gallery.
Following the reissue in 1893, an exhibition of the series was held at the Royal Institution; the Magazine of Art (November 1895-October 1896, 5104) published an article on 'Assyrian art three thousand years ago' which was illustrated entirely with the Copeland reproductions, described as 'desirable ornaments for the drawing-room and boudoir' and 'especially welcome . . . to those who are unable to study the famous originals'. Layard had died in 1894 and so the exhibition may have been held in his honour.
Jarvis titled his leaflet 'Nineveh Reproductions from the Assyrian Sculptures'. Hays's figures are in fact taken from the sculptures of Nimrud, Khorsabad and Nineveh. The statuette of Sennacherib is based on the king as he appears seated in one of the sculptures of the siege of Lachish from Sennacherib's palace at Nineveh; the king is shown inspecting the booty (Reade, J. 'Assyrian Sculpture', British Museum, London 1983, fig. 73, Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities 124911). He holds his bow in his right hand and wears a full-length robe with elaborate border pattern, copied accurately by Hays. His head has been mutilated in antiquity and so Hays has substituted the tiara worn by Ashurbanipal in the lion-hunt reliefs from Ashurbanipal's palace at Nineveh (Reade 1983, fig. 82).
Hays has confused the dates of Sennacherib's reign (705-681 BC) with those of Sargon 11 (721 - 705 BC). Sardanapalus (Ashurbanipal) is taken from another lion-hunt relief showing him killing a wounded lion with his sword (Reade 1983, fig. 87; WAA 124875). The king's robe is short at the front and long at the back and there are many details that Hays has copied accurately, but the posture is thoroughly Victorian, despite Jarvis's claim that the statuettes were 'faithful reproductions, modified. . . only so far as was unavoidably necessary in the transfer from the relief to the round'. The Queen of Sardanapalus is based on the seated figure of the Queen of Assyria as she appears with Ashurbanipal in the garden scene that inspired the plaque of 1886 (Reade 1983, figs 102-3; WAA 124920). She is drinking from a bowl held in her right hand. The chronology of Assyrian kings was roughly right by the mid-1870s; the date '662 BC' for Sardanapalus (ruled 668-627 BC) and '650 BC' for his queen are reasonable guesses.
The book-ends are based on the colossal guardian figures from Nimrud and Khorsabad. The winged lion is taken from the figure flanking the doorway in the throne-room of Ashurnasirpal n in the North-West palace at Nimrud (WAA 118873), while the winged bull is taken from one of the gateway figures in the palace of Sargon at Khorsabad (Reade 1983, fig. 2, WAA 118808). In common with the originals Hays's animals have five legs, so that they appear correct whether viewed from the front or the side, but unlike the originals Hays's figures are double-sided. The Nimrod vase is based on the head of a bull from the palace of Esarhaddon at Nimrud (Barnett, R.D. and Faulkner, M. 'The Sculptures of Assurnasirpal II, Tiglath-Pileser II, Escarhaddon, from the Central and South-West palaces at Nimrud', British Museum, London 1962, pl. CXIII: WAA 118893).
Parian porcelain, a type of white or tinted porcelain resembling marble, was first produced at the Copeland factory in 1844. Other factories followed this lead, but it is not known why Jarvis chose Copeland for the production of his Assyrian series, nor is it clear how he was able to finance the production of the figures by Copeland and to obtain such a prestigious list of subscribers.
For jewellery inspired by the Assyrian sculptures, see Rudoe, J., 'Assyrian-style jewellery: a forgotten chapter in the history of backes and Strauss, London', The Antique Collector, April 1989; the British Museum also holds Layard's silver-gilt Freedom casket, based on the Nimrud sculptures (Decorative Arts 1850-1950 Cat. 127). For information used in this entry I am grateful to Julian Reade of the Department of Western Antiquities, Christopher Date of the British Museum Archives, Brian Hughes of Bolton Art Gallery and Robert Copeland of Spode.
Information supplementary to Rudoe 1994:
See J. Rudoe, 'Henry Layard et les arts décoratifs du style "Nineve" en Angleterre' in E. Fontan (ed). 'De Korsabad à Paris, La découvert des Assyriens', Paris 1994. Published by the Louvre as a volume of essays to accompany an exhibition at the Louvre. pp. 260-73, Plate 10. See also, Robert Copeland, 'Parian. Copeland's Stauary Porcelain', Woodbridge 2007, pp. 247-268 (chapter on 'The Reproductions from the Assyrian Sculptures').
- On display (G47/dc9)
- Exhibition history
1993 18 Nov-1994 15 Feb, France, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 150 ème Anniversaire de la Decouverte des Assyriens
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number