Fine Art Friday: Mesopotamia

Neo-Assyrian lamassus, LouvreThanks to Gardner’s Art Through the Ages I now know why the lamassus (human-headed winged bulls or lions) I saw as a kid at the British Museum and Louvre have five legs (they were made to look “right” from the front or the side but not from an angle). I also learned about ziggurats, steles, friezes, votive statues, cylinder seals, hollow bronze casting, bas reliefs and molded, glazed bricks. Of course the book also shows fine examples of these many forms of Mesopotamian art, but it left me wanting to see more. I’ve gathered some relevant links and thought I’d share them in case anyone out there has a taste for the exotic.

Timeline of Art History: Mesopotamia

Art of the First Cities

The British Museum: Mesopotamia

Musée du Louvre: Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

As a side note, I can’t help but think that the early archaeologists were, in hindsight, right to extract these treasures from their desert resting places. One of the plates in my book depicts the famous Warka Vase, which was looted from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad during the US invasion in 2003. Luckily it was recovered, but dozens of other major pieces and hundreds of smaller ones are still missing, according to Wikipedia. Perhaps some day Iraq will be stable enough to protect its ancient history on behalf of all humanity, but until then it seems prudent to keep a good portion of their artifacts safe in the West. I hope Queen Napir-Asu will understand.

Queen Napir-Asu, Louvre

Statue of Queen Napir-Asu, from Susa, Iran, ca. 1350-1300 BCE. Bronze and copper, 4′ 2.75″ high. Louvre.


He who would seize my statue, who would smash it, who would destroy its inscription, who would erase my name, may he be smitten by the curse of [the gods], that his name shall become extinct, that his offspring be barren…. This is Napir-Asu’s offering.


4 comments on “Fine Art Friday: Mesopotamia

  1. Wil Cone says:

    Hmmm…the West as invader AND protector – you been talkin' to W?
    Cool links.
    I've wanted to visit the Middle East (Petra, Ur, Giza, etc.) for a long time, but I've been a little skittish. Maybe someday.

  2. Stefanie says:

    Wow, that's some curse!

  3. Sylvia says:

    Well, ya, if there hadn't been an invasion there wouldn't have been the looting. I guess I was partly thinking about what the Taliban did to the Bamian buddhas, and the potential for more Islamist iconoclasm in the region. Of course if the US and USSR hadn't meddled in Afganistan earlier we might not have had the Taliban… Well, I think the bottom line is that not keeping all our lamassus in one basket is the prudent thing to do.

  4. Sylvia says:

    Stefanie: It's quite a curse, but Queen Napir-Asu didn't leave anything to chance. The statue was hollow-cast but then filled with bronze so that, in it's current state, it weighs 3760 pounds. It seems she wanted to make absolutely sure her gift couldn't be taken away the way her own people had taken statues from other lands.

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