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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Human-Headed Winged Bull (Lamassu)

Human-Headed Winged Bull (Lamassu) - MET - Joy of Museums - 2

Human-Headed Winged Bull (Lamassu)

This Human-Headed Winged Bull is a Lamassu which is an Assyrian protective deity, often depicted as having a human head, the body of a bull or a lion, and bird wings. The horned cap attests to its divinity, and the motif of a winged animal with a human head is common to the Near East. The first distinct lamassu motif appeared in Assyria as a symbol of power.

The sculptor of this Human-Headed Winged Bull gave this guardian figure five legs so that they appear to be firmly standing when viewed from the front but striding forward when seen from the side. Lamassu protected and supported essential doorways in Assyrian palaces. Ths sculpture is one of a pair of lamassu that was placed at the entrance of a prominent palace.

Assyria

The Assyrian Empire was a dominant Mesopotamian empire of the ancient Near East and the Levant. Centred on the Tigris in Upper Mesopotamia it consisted of substantial parts of the greater Mesopotamian “cradle of civilisation”, which included Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, and Babylonia.

Nimrud

Nimrud is located 30 kilometres (20 mi) south of the city of Mosul, Iraq, in the Nineveh plains in northern Mesopotamia. Archaeological excavations at the site began in 1845, and many important pieces were discovered. The city was labelled the name “Nimrud” in modern times after the Biblical Nimrod.

Reflections

  • Why was the motif of a winged animal with a human head is common in early civilisations?
  • Was the prophet Ezekiel who wrote in the Bible about a fantastic being made up of aspects of a human being, a lion, an eagle and a bull, influenced by the iconography of Assyrian culture?
  • Human-Headed Winged Bulls can be found in some other museums. Have you seen then at other museums?

Exploring Ancient Near Eastern Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Human-Headed Winged Bull (Lamassu)

  • Title:             Human-Headed Winged Bull (Lamassu)
  • Date:             883–859 B.C.
  • Found:          Mesopotamia, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu)
  • Materials:    Gypsum alabaster
  • Culture:        Assyrian
  • Dimensions: H. 123 1/2 x W. 26 1/2 x D. 122 in., 15999.8 lb. (313.7 x 67.3 x 309.9 cm, 7257.4 kg)
  • Museum:        Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

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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) JOM

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