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Opening of the exhibition “I founded therein my royal palace…” Assyrian Art from the British Museum

Published 17 December 2019

On 9 December 2019, during the Hermitage Days, the first-ever exhibition in Russia of art from ancient Assyria – “I founded therein my royal palace.” – was opened in the Manege of the Small Hermitage. The exhibition has been organized by the State Hermitage and the British Museum, which possesses the world’s best collection of Assyrian art.

The exhibition was opened by Mikhail Borisovich Piotrovsky, General Director of the State Hermitage.

Greeting the gathering, Mikhail Borisovich said: “Today we are opening a tremendous exhibition of Assyrian reliefs from the British Museum – the culminating moment of the Hermitage Days. Displays of this sort are something only the Hermitage and the British Museum are capable of. The exhibition is full of academic scholarly meanings; it is full of scholarly beauty. Nobody has ever seen such a quantity of ancient Assyrian reliefs except in the British Museum. This exhibition is not only a great symbol of friendship. Our museums are not only close in type, in terms of scholarship, we are also linked by joint research and exhibition projects, the similar mentality of our scholars. This is one more example of our inventiveness, of cultural and museum ties. The Assyrian reliefs are great works of ancient art. Assyria, which conquered many lands, has gone down in history as a belligerent state that glorified its military accomplishments with a bloodthirsty epic. At the same time, they made wonderful art to celebrate the victories of their rulers both in war and in hunting. These reliefs are astonishingly well executed, the fineness of the work, the thoroughness of the details and the veracity in the presentation of events.

“Assyria is also the history of archaeology and some remarkable scholars who were not put off by the risks, nor by the scale of the massive archaeological excavations, nor by political complications. They gave Assyria back to the world. A separate section of the exhibition is devoted to their activities. Thanks to the excavations and to the fact that many of the finds were removed to the British Museum, the artefacts have been saved, because precisely the ancient cities of Assyria with its capital at Nineveh, where Mosul is today, were destroyed by the fanatics of ISIS. If they had not been in London, all these works would have been completely lost.

“I am delighted that today we are able to show the art of ancient Assyria, a great culture of the East that we all love and treasure, whose authentic artefacts we need to come into touch with now and again.”

Also participating in the opening ceremony were St John Simpson, Assistant Keeper of the Middle East Department at the British Museum; Natalia Viktorovna Kozlova, Head of the State Hermitage’s Department of the East; and Alena Valeryevna Novikova, Advisor on Social Investments and Corporate Responsibility for BP Russia.

The exhibition curators are Mariam Magomedovna Dandamayeva, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Academic Secretary of the State Hermitage, and Dr Gareth Brereton, Curator of the Ancient Mesopotamia Collections in the Middle East Department of the British Museum.

The exhibition presents works from all the significant palaces of Assyrian rulers, including Ashurnasirpal II (reliefs from his palace are also in the Hermitage’s collection, and a line from his royal inscription provided the title for the exhibition) and Ashurbanipal, whose palace was the source of the reliefs that are considered the pinnacle of the development of Assyrian art.

The display also includes works of applied art uncovered during excavations of the palaces of the Assyrian rulers, including the famed ivory plaques that adorned luxurious palace furniture or horse harnesses.

A separate section of the exhibition is devoted to the famous library that King Ashurbanipal created in Nineveh, the largest and oldest to have survived from the ancient world, while the final topic is the adventure novel-like story of the rediscovery of the Assyrian civilization by Europeans in the middle of the 19th century.

A scholarly illustrated catalogue has been produced for the exhibition – “I founded therein my royal palace...” Assyrian Art from the British Museum (State Hermitage publishing house, Saint Petersburg, 2019 – 320 pp., ill.). The catalogue texts are by British Museum researchers.

More about the exhibition