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Winged Genius

ca. 865 BCE-860 BCE
33 3/8 x 29 1/8 x 2 1/2 in. (84.7 x 73.9 x 6.4 cm)

Unknown, Assyrian
Assyrian

Object Type: Sculpture
Medium and Support: Alabaster
Credit Line: R. T. Miller Fund
Accession Number: 1944.10
Location: Currently on view
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This mythical guardian figure, called a Genius, wears a two-horned helmet and fringed garment and carries a double-handled dagger, all attributes of his divine nature. His hands gesture protectively toward a flowering tree, just visible at the right edge of the sculpture. This relief, once brightly painted, is a fragment from the Northwest palace built by the Assyrian king Ashirnasirpal II (883—859 BCE) in his capital city at Kalhu, now the Iraqi city of Nimrud. Dozens of huge stone slabs carved with scenes of human and divine figures decorated the palace walls.

[Gallery label text, 2009]

This relief is a fragment of a larger composition of similar figures that once decorated one of the palaces of King Ashurnasirpal II, who ruled Assyria from 883 to 859 BCE. He established his capital at Kalhu, now the Iraqi city of Nimrud. Carved in a technique typical of Assyrian bas-reliefs, with contours deeply channeled to make them discernible in diffuse light, the figure’s facial features and musculature are carefully modeled. The hair and garments are also carved in detail, enhancing the decorative effect that the Assyrians favored in such reliefs.

The wings and the two-horned helmet worn by the figure, called a Genius, are attributes of his divinity. That he is a protective deity is implied by his gesture toward the tree form, which suggests the care of a farmer for planted crops. The palmettes of a tree behind the figure’s right foot separated this figure from a similar one, now in the Vatican Museum in Rome, facing in the opposite direction.

The motif of tending to these tree forms appears on many of the more than 315 Assyrian reliefs in collections outside of Nimrud, and is believed to represent an act that was part of ritual ceremonies. While such ceremonies remain unexplained, their frequent representation in palace reliefs suggests their importance to Assyrian court life.

"I, Ashurnasirpal, the king whose glory is mighty, took Kalhu and changed its ancient mound… A palace of boxwood, mulberry, cedar, cypress, pistachio, tamarisk, and poplar… for my royal dwelling and for my lordly pleasure I founded therein, I adorned and made glorious.”

King Ashurnasirpal II, who ruled Assyria from 883-859 BCE, so described the founding of his new capital city at Kalhu (modern-day Nimrud) on the banks of the Tigris River. Ashurnasirpal’s most elaborate project was the construction of the Northwest Palace, which included state apartments, a throne room, administrative offices, a harem and a tomb. Built during his reign and completed by his successors, the palace was decorated with huge stone slabs that were carved with scenes of figures in relief and inscribed with a record of important events during Ashurnasirpal’s reign. The Gallery’s relief, Winged Genius, probably comes from this palace.

[Gallery label text, 2004]

Provenance
Kaayat; Brummer Gallery, New York, October 1928; Cleveland Museum of Art, November 1928; Brummer Galleries, New York, 1944; purchased from them by the Gallery in 1944

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Web Links See links to web pages and lesson plans
Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative An international catalogue of cuneiform tablets, compiled by scholars at UCLA and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. MAG's cuneiforms were examined by a scholar in the summer of 2011.
Passport to the Past A Tour of the Ancient, European and Asian Collections of the Memorial Art Gallery.

The Passport to the Past tour and Image Set complement several areas of study and understanding as mandated by the NYS Board of Regents Social Studies curriculum for the sixth grade level as well as higher grade levels.


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