Relief Fragment of a Winged Genius (from the Palace of Assurnasirpall II at Nimrud)
H.90 x W.41 in Background Information on the Culture
The Assyrian kings ruled in Mesopotamia from the ninth through the seventh century B.C. They always created an image of themselves as the most powerful, divine and sovereign monarchs. In order to show their power they decorated their palaces with huge sculptures which portrayed their power, authority and wealth.
According to the artistic convention, the figure placed on the wall of the museum is a winged "genius" or a protective being. The above sculpture sheet was taken from the leftovers of an imperial place at Nimrud, which was the capital of Assyrian empire and is currently located in Iraq.
The walls of the palace were built under the guidance of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.) and were decorated with different stuff. This included stone panels which were carved in low relief. These stone panels narrated the hunting and military developments performed under his rule.
The palace at Nimrud was dug out between 1845 and 1851 A.D. This activity was performed by Sir Austin H. Layard who worked on behalf of British Museum. This panel is one of palace sculptures which were known as first examples of ancient Mesopotamian art that reach the western world.
In this figure, the "genius" is wearing a horned cap, knee-length tunic and a long cape which shows the divinity. The text in this panel is the Cuneiform writing, which is one of the earliest known forms of written expression. This writing style was used for more than thirty five centuries (Adkins, 2003). This writing was slowly replaced by the Phoenician alphabet during the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
Cuneiform writing was done on the clay tablets with the help of blunt reed which was used as a stylus. The impressions formed by the stylus were of wedged shape, that is why it was named as cuneiform, which means "wedge shaped" and has been taken from Latin word "Cuneus" which means "wedge."
The cuneiform text shown in this panel which is covering the surface is a message or dedication in order to express the greatness and victories of Ashurnasirpal and also explains the building of his palace. The traces remaining of the sculpture are of bright colors which indicate that the panel was painted with bright colors in order to increase its visual impact.
The above picture is of genius, also known as demi-god. It was one of the creatures from the winged creature group, facing a stylized tree. This scene was repeated various times in the palace. Date palm tree was considered holy by the Assyrians due to the reasons that it not only provides food but also drinks, shelter and wood. Therefore, they also use to perform fertility rites which are associated with the date palm tree.
Adkins, Lesley. Empires of the Plain: Henry Rawlinson and the Lost Languages of Babylon, New York: St. Martin's Press. (2003): p.47
Daniels, Peter and Bright, William. The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press. 1996: 146
Earthenware with overglaze luster painting, ceramic
15 1/2 x 15 1/2in. (39.4 x 39.4cm)
Background Information on the Culture
During tenth to twelfth centuries, many countries including Egypt came under the rule of Fatimid Dynasty (909-1171). Fatimids were the people who founded the Cairo City (Al -- Qahira, " the triumphant") and made it their new capital. After that Egypt enjoyed high profits and prosperity due to its role of an intermediary for the trade and business between India and Mediterranean.
The wealth and richness of Fatimid court added a fuel to the rebirth and revival of decorative arts and in result Cairo became the most important cultural centre in the Islamic world. similarly Al- Futsat which was the Old Cairo, became the main centre for the manufacture of different kinds of work, these include; metal work, rock crystal, ivory, glass, pottery and wood. Statutes and Jewelry of wood were also made with equally creative techniques and skills. The artists of Fatimid period made beautiful decorative motifs and also utilized figural forms of both humans and animals in a better style. The figures made by them were stylized but they still looked lively, showing the cleverness and creative the artwork done in this period by the Fatimid craftsmen.
These kinds of Fatimid Egyptian decors of lusterware were found in Old Cairo, at the site of Fustat in early twentieth century. This effort of Fatimid period shows the draftsman ship of high quality in behvaiour and performance of not only humans but also animals. This type of work is also resembles with the manuscript painting and architectural work of this period.
This picture is of a rounded bowl which has a short flat foot at the bottom. It a brown colored luster technique decoration piece which painted over the white opaque glaze. It depicts a hare standing in his own style with some flower kind of thing in his mouth, which most probably it has plucked from the branches of a plant which also surrounds him from all sides which is also shown in the form of luster whirls.
This bowl was made in Egypt during the period of the Fatimid dynasty (909-1171) but this luster decorative technique for working on ceramics actually started in Iraq during the ninth century. This concept for making decorations was also used later in Syria and Iran during the time period of eleventh and fifteenth centuries. It was also used in Iran but in late seventeenth and early eighteenth century when it was revived and again people started utilizing it.
Acanthus capitals were symbols of wealth and of immortality, ever since their use from the 5th century BC in Ancient Greece. The acanthus thistle, with its opulent and thick, well-defined leaf margins therefore a popular decorative form also employed in the Greek provinces such as Spain.
This capital portrays the beautiful phase of Andalusian architectural sculpture. This type of Corinthian capital model was found in different Roman ruins in Spain, which portrays their developed society and stylish designing.
The above picture is of a composite column capital. A capital can be defined as a decorative element which is located at the head of a column and divides it from the shaft that is supporting it. The concept of decorating column with creative capitals is very old and has been used at by several civilizations at different time periods. The column capital shown in this picture is designed similar to the pattern of the acanthus leaves. The acanthus is a plant that has crispy, prickly and crinkly leaves.
This capital column, made of white marble and was found in Spain, most probably Corboda during tenth century and according to the research it belongs to the Umayyad Caliphate.
It has a wide cylindrical base along with two stepped layers of stylized acanthus leaves. It consists of four corners with large circular volutes which are attached to a carved rounded collar. Its top has eight support extensions which give slight loss to the acanthus leaf terminals.
The method of decoration on the acanthus capital clearly portrays that this capital is from the remains of ancient times. It has four volutes in diagonal shape and tow wreath of leaves. The top slab of the capital, abacus, lies over the volutes. All four volutes together end in the shape of four petal blossoms. Protruding volutes are covered by the acanthus leaves. The leaves that are actually terminating under the abacus give a picture as if they are holding it up.
This capital resembles with the capitals that were made for the reception room of 'Abd al-Rahman III. These were designed for the royal palace at Madinat al-Zahra, which is at a distance of around six kilometers from Corboda. They were also of the same composite type but had two rows of acanthus. The beed and reel pattern was also used in their making and the decoration of volutes was also identical.