The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

Relief of a Winged Genius

Winged protective deity, Northwest Palace at Calakh, Northern Iraq, Assyrian, reign of Assurnasirpal II, 883-859 BC, alabaster - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - DSC02821

This slab of sculptured relief on gypsum depicts a winged genius (or antediluvian sage) holding a mace. It comes from the Northwest Palace of King Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud. Nimrud was an ancient Assyrian city located 30 kilometres (20 mi) south of the city of Mosul in northern Iraq.

Across the centre, the panel is inscribed with the “Standard Inscription” of King Ashurnasirpal II, who reigned between 883–859 BCE as king of Assyria, which in part reads as follows:

“Palace of Assurnasirpal, priest of Assur, the favorite of Bel and Ninurta, the beloved of Anu and Dagan, the Strong one of the great gods, the mighty king, king of the world, king of Assyria …… the valiant hero, who goes hither and yon, trusting in Assur his lord and who is without rival among the princes of the four quarters; the shepherd of the fertile pastures, who fears no opposition; the mighty flood, who has no opponent; the king who subjects the unruly, the entire hosts of the nations’ subjects; the strong man who treads on the necks of his foes, who crushes all his enemies, who shatters the alliance of the rebels; the king, who with the help of the great gods, his lords, proceeds and whose hand has conquered all lands; who has mastered all the mountain regions and has received their tribute, who takes hostages and establishes his power over all the lands.” –  “Standard Inscription” of King Ashurnasirpal II

The Palaces at Nimrud Restored

“The Palaces of Nimrud Restored”, as imagined by the city’s first excavator, A.H. Layard in  1853

This relief originally decorated the interior wall of the palace of King Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud, which is in present-day Iraq. The genius wears the horned crown of a deity and the elegant jewellery and fringed cloak of an Assyrian royal. The term “Winged Genii” is the name for a recurring motif in the iconography of Assyrian sculpture. Winged genies are usually bearded male figures with large bird wings. The Genii are a recurring motif in ancient Assyrian art and are depicted mostly in palaces or places of royalty.

According to historians, these genii are beings known as antediluvian (belonging to the time before the great flood) sages. They were beings that existed during a godlike generation of humanity. During the antediluvian age humanity was covered by the great flood and the inhabitants were purified and roamed the earth as invisible genii.

Many examples of “Winged Genie” from the Nimrud palace have made their way across the world to many museums. They include:

  • British Museum
  • Louvre Museum
  • Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon
  • Yale University Art Gallery
  • Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland
  • Princeton University Art Museum

Below is an example from the Louvre Museum.

Blessing genie Dur Sharrukin

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                         Relief of a Winged Genius
  • Findspot:                 Iraq, Nimrud (Calah, Kalhu), Northwest Palace
  • Date:                         883–859 B.C.
  • Period:                     Neo-Assyrian Period, reign of Ashurnasirpal II
  • Dimensions:         H: 230, W: 132, D:9.4 cm (90 x 51  x 3 )
  • Material:                Gypsum

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“If you are a host to your guest, be a host to his dog also.” Assyrian Proverb

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Photo Credit: 1) By Daderot (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons 2) See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 3) By w:James Fergusson (architect) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons