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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Lion Hunt Relief from Nimrud

Lion Hunt Relief from Nimrud - Pergamon Museum

Lion Hunt Relief from Nimrud

This Lion Hunt Relief came from a wing of Northwest Palace of the Royal Residence of King Ashurbanipal in Nimrud, present-day Iraq. The relief shows the king, standing on a light hunting chariot, which is guided by a charioteer and pulled three horses. Three arrows have hit the lion, and the King once again aims an arrow at the lion, which has turned its head back and seems to roar its attacker in pain.

The royal lion hunt is a symbol of the King overcoming the dangers and challenges to the Assyrian state by its ruler. Particularly noteworthy is in the initially coloured bas-relief of detail, such as in hunting chariots and weapons, as well as in the richly decorated horses with their teeth. This section of the relief is only the lower part of a three-walled wall relief, the total height of which was about 2.30 m. While the upper register with another narrative relief is lost, only a few remnants of two lines of cuneiform have been preserved from the middle register, which bore the king’s standard inscription. An almost identical representation, now in the British Museum in London, shows the bow-shooting king, who has just killed a male lion.

Nimrud has been one of the primary sources of Assyrian sculpture, including the famous palace reliefs. A series of the distinctive Assyrian shallow reliefs were removed from the palaces and sections are now found in several museums, in particular, the British Museum and the Pergamon Museums. These show scenes of hunting, warfare, ritual and processions.

There are about two dozen sets of scenes of lion hunting in surviving Assyrian palace reliefs. Neo-Assyrian palaces were very extensively decorated with such reliefs, carved in shallow reliefs on slabs that are mostly of gypsum alabaster, which was plentiful in northern Iraq. Other animals were also shown being hunted, and the main subject for narrative reliefs was the war campaigns of the king who built the palace. Other reliefs showed the king, his court, and “winged genie” and lamassu protective minor deities.

Nimrud

Nimrud is an ancient Assyrian city located 30 kilometres (20 mi) south of the city of Mosul, in the Nineveh plains in Upper Mesopotamia. It was a major Assyrian city between about 1350 BC and 610 BC. The city is located in strategic position north of the point that the river Tigris meets its tributary the Great Zab. In the mid 19th century, biblical archaeologists proposed the Biblical name of Kalhu (Calah), based on a description in Genesis 10.

The city gained fame when king Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BC) of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–605 BC) made it his capital at the expense of Assur. He built a large palace and temples in the city, which fell into disrepair during the Bronze Age Collapse of the mid-11th to mid-10th centuries BC.

Archaeological excavations at the site began in 1845, and many important artefacts were discovered, with most being moved to museums in Iraq and abroad. Historic artefacts from Nimrud can now be found in over 76 museums worldwide, including 36 in the United States and 13 in the United Kingdom. In 2015, the terrorist organisation the Islāmic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) destroyed much of the site and the excavated remains of the city because of its Assyrian history.

Reflections

  • How does the Assyrian Lion Hunt compare with Roman Columns and Triumphal arches?
  • What do Ashurbanipal’s lion hunts speak to?
  • What did these images do for the Assyrian King’s image?
  • How do these images compare with Greek images a few hundred years later?

Lion Hunt Relief from Nimrud

  • Name:                    Lion Hunt Relief from Nimrud
  • Date:                      883-859 BC
  • Location:                Nimrud, modern Kalchu
  • Type:                      Relief Sculpture
  • Culture:                  New Assyrian
  • Material:                 Stone Alabaster
  • Dimensions:           Height: 97 cm; Width: 183 cm
  • Museum:                Pergamon Museum

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“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history
is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”

– Aldous Huxley

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Photo Credit: 1) JOM Sources: Museum material and Wikipedia 

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