The Reconstruction of the Eastern End of the Throne room of Ashurnasirpal II

Northwest Palace, Nimrud

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Proposed layout of the facsimile of the Eastern end of the Throne room of Ashurnasirpal II

Factum Arte started this project in 2004 as a collaboration with the Danish exhibition company United Exhibits Group. This exhibition company was working with the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Culture of Iraq to curate an exhibition ‘The Gold of Nimrud’ that was planned as a touring exhibition to raise urgently needed funds for the preservation of Heritage in Iraq. In 2006, with UEG in serious financial difficulties, work on the exhibition stopped. At that time Factum Arte, working with Julian Reade (formerly assistant keeper of Near Eastern Archaeology the British Museum) and Mogens Trolle Larsen (professor of Assyriology at University of Copenhagen) had completed most of the work required to make a facsimile of the eastern end of the Throne-room of Ashurnasirpal II.

Turning discrete objects back into complex subjects

Increasingly a number of facsimiles are being used in cases of repatriation. The work carried out by Factum Arte on Veronese's Wedding at Cana is a good example of this. However in the case of the facsimiles of the relief panels from Ashurnasipal II's throne-room there is another interesting aspect - that of re-uniting different parts from the same site that are now displayed as discrete objects in different museums around the world. The friezes from Nimrud were once part of a complex narrative that mixed polychrome relief carving and text. The impact of this has been lost. It is hoped that the work to reunite all the known parts of the Eastern end of the throne-room will lead to new insights and understandings about both Assyrian art and life. Revealing the biography (or career) of each of the fragments is an important part of the work - one that shows how attitudes to the preservation of culture are both constantly changing and geographically conditioned.

The Northwest Palace was discovered in 1849-50 by Austin Henry Layard. He wrote:
"We may wander through these galleries for an hour or two, examining the marvelous sculptures, or the numerous inscriptions that surround us. Here we meet long rows of kings, attended by their eunuchs and priests,- there lines of winged figures, carrying fir cones and religious emblems... Some, who may hereafter tread on the spot when the grass again grows over the ruins of the Assyrian palaces, may suspect that I have been relating a vision."

With extraordinary skill Layard removed the carved polychrome friezes and sculptures with the majority being sent to the British Museum in London. In the nineteenth century there was as much interest in the Assyrian Culture as there was in Egypt and these works were of great importance to the British Museum as it built its collection. The panels have a complex biography after they arrived in London; some were cast, some were shown at the Great Exhibition (from where they were sold to the Pergamon), others were allowed to go elsewhere and Layard also gave some away. As a result a once coherent narrative cycle ended up in museums around the world. Parts of the palace not removed by Layard remain in Nimrud and are in urgent need of documentation and preservation.

The Throne-room was originally painted but since its removal in the nineteenth century all the paint (except for small traces, mostly visible on the feet of the Dresden panel) has been removed. This either happened during the process of plaster casting at the British Museum or during subsequent cleaning.

High resolution recording techniques and making exact copies

Some of the recording systems were designed especially for the work and have major implications for the study of relief surfaces – particularly the merging of 3D information with high resolution photography. Factum Arte's obsession with high-resolution recording in colour and 3 dimensions can be seen in all the conservation projects they have realised. New scanners are constantly being designed and built for increasingly specific tasks.

The ability to render the 3D data with different light sources also has major implications for the study and dissemination of cuneiform tablets. Many of the cuneiform tablets that exist have never been read or studied. A systematic programme of scanning and reading with optical character recognition software could lead to some exciting new discoveries.

Factum Arte's Facsimile of the Eastern End
of the throneroom of Ashurnasirpal II

High resolution scanning and photography was carried out in the British Museum London, the Pergamon Berlin, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, The Sackler Collection at Harvard University and The Art Museum at Princeton University. A trip to record the fragments left on site in Nimrud and other known fragments in Mosul and Baghdad was postponed following a visit of the Minister of Culture of Iraq to Madrid on June 10th 2005.

In the British Museum Factum Arte recorded: two colossal human headed winged lions (3.5 (high) x 5.8 (long) x 1.5 (wide) meters), the throne back, 8 panels from the south east wall of the throne-room, a winged figure from the east wall,an urn found in the throne-room and a ‘carpet piece' from Nineveh.

In British Museum Factum Arte recorded the colossal statue of a winged lion from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II (Room B)

In the Pergamon Museum, Berlin Factum Arte recorded: one of the slaves serving food from the ante-chamber to the throne-room, the head of a winged spirit and a standard inscription. In the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Dresden Factum Arte recorded: a large winged figure from the south wall of the throne-room.

In the Sackler Collection at Harvard University Factum Arte recorded: the head of a winged figure from a badly damaged panel that once stood to the right of the throne-back.

In the Art Museum at Princeton University Factum Arte recorded the upper half of a winged figure from a panel that once stood to the left of to the throne-back.

All of these high-resolution 3D scans were routed by Delcam, Birminigham at a resolution of 300 microns. This was the largest conservation project of its kind at the time and has not been matched in terms of scale and accuracy since.

The only thing that remains is to cast all the sections in a simulated Mosul marble so that each panel exactly matches the original in terms of colour and transparency.

After a delay of several years Factum Arte are now proposing to complete the work and ensure that it is returned to Iraq where it can play an important role in informing both a local and international public about the complex history of each of the fragments that once formed one of the most important cycles of sculpted, polychrome narrative images.

See Ashurnasirpal's standard inscription here.

The standard inscription made from a recording of a plaster-cast from the British Museum that was found in the basement of The Pergamon, Berlin

A finished panel made in scagliola matching the character of the Mosul marble of the original in The British Museum. All of the panels from the eastern end of the throneroom and two human headed lions from the centre of the throneroom are being cast in scagliola.

In addition to making the panels in scagliola they are also cast in plaster. These plaster-casts are used to ensure that the detail on the surface of the scagliola is as perfect as possible.

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