Human-headed Winged Bull, North West Palace of king Ashurnasirpal II, 883-859 BC
309 (height) x 315 (length) cm
Nimrud (modern Iraq)


Found in the city of Nimrud, this Human-headed Winged Bull from the North West Palace is a monumental statue depicting a supernatural protective creature. This composite creature, known as a lamassu, combines a masculine, bearded human head and the wings of a bird with the body and legs of a bull. On his head he wears a hat with multiple horns symbolising divinity. One of a pair, this colossal sculpture, finely carved in soft gypsum, once flanked an entrance into a reception room in the palace. The sculpture’s pose is designed to give a combined viewpoint, as the creature has five legs. A pair of legs is visible from the front so that the lamassu maintains a vigilant stance. From the side, however, four legs can be seen, so that the figure appears, still complete, in mid-stride.
King Ashurnasirpal II built extensively at Nimrud and established it as his capital in the 9th century BC. His ruthless military campaigns re-established Assyria as a major power. This Human-headed Winged Bull served a double purpose: first, it was intended to ward off evil from the entrance to the room, but it would also impress and intimidate any visitors. Its presence, in conjunction with stone wall reliefs of the king performing rituals, at the hunt or successful in war, that lined important rooms in the palace, promoted a layered ideological message of royal power, authority and success, sanctioned and protected by the supernatural world.
The Human-headed Winged Bulls in this experience are not a matching pair; they guarded the doorways to a bedchamber and banqueting hall within the North West Palace. Their partners are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.


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