Celebrating the History of a Nation
As a self proclaimed art & history nerd, there are few things that make me as ecstatic as the discovery of new objects of historical significance (I was obsessed with the Staffordshire Hoard for weeks and don’t even get me started on Anglo-Saxon decorative arts). Which is why I’m writing this in celebration of my fellow art & history lovers in Iraq and the successes of the National Museum in Baghdad, which recently opened a new exhibition on cuneiform writing.
When the museum reopened permanently in 2009, Iraqis, eager to learn about their history, teach their children, or just enjoy going to a museum flocked to the site. Students of Iraq’s past have a wealth of history at their disposal. Not only was Iraq the birthplace of civilization (Mesopotamia, 3000 BCE) but it was also home to dozens of empires over the millennia. Please see this ridiculously cool video! All of part of what we now understand to be Iraq was at one point controlled by Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Sassanids, the Umayyad Caliphate, Seljuks, Mongols, the Ottoman Empire, and finally Imperial Britain.Iraq’s National Museum holds the largest collection of Mesopotamian artifacts anywhere in the world. After the disastrous looting of the museum following the American invasion in 2003, having lost roughly 15,400 artifacts and works of art to looters, the museum experienced a near-miraculous revival. About 8,500 of the looted artifacts have been recovered in an inspiring display of international cooperation involving numerous organizations and individuals.
But to the lovers of art, and even the casual appreciators, the National Museum of Iraq is more than a museum; it employs hundreds of people in its day to day operations, provides funding for archaeologists to resume excavating, resources for students, inspires and educates kids, and contributes to the character and grandeour of Baghdad. After all, what would Washington, DC be without the National Gallery, Florence without the Uffizi, or New York City without the Metropolitan Museum of Art? (I’m not picking favorites, those are just the only cities I’ve lived in.)
And since I once wrote a paper on the figural decorations at the palace of Ashurnasirpal II (King of Assyria 883-859 BCE), I’m going to include some pictures.
This 13 ft tall sculpture depicts a creature known as a Lamassu. In industry terms we would refer to him as “apotropaic,” intended to ward off evil. Lamassu have alternately the body of a lion or bull, the wings of an eagle, and the head of a man. The stylized beard indicates age and wisdom, while the six-horned headdress indicates a magical or supernatural status. Lamassu have 5 legs: they were meant to be viewed frontally, standing proudly and imposingly, or from the side, from where they would appear to be striding forward. All around the body of this creature are cuneiform inscriptions praising the king’s greatness.
You can see some of this art for yourself with the National Museum’s interactive virtual tour. Although only part of the museum is currently open to visitors, the unceasing efforts of the museum staff have already taken this museum back from the brink of ruin, I expect great things from them in the future and I can’t wait to visit.
a recent graduate from SUNY New Paltz where she studied Medieval Islamic and European art history and American history and foreign policy. Born and raised in New York State, she now lives in DC and is excited to be part of the EPIC team