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and whence, according to Scripture, Asshur went forth to build
Nineveh, are interesting ground. Of these great Assyrian towns it was
natural to seek some ruins. Of all these cities, however, founded so
far back before authentic history begins, only Nineveh, which
flourished many centuries later, and of which we have always had more
authentic histories than those of any other Assyrian city, attained to
a comparatively modern prosperity and renown. The records of this
magnificent city, from which historians have derived their
information, describe its walls as reaching no less than two hundred
feet in height, and broad enough to be a chariot-way. These walls were
sixty miles in circumference, and guarded by fifteen hundred towers;
and in the eighth century before the Christian era the city is
estimated to have included a population of more than half a million
souls. But many centuries before this, Nineveh was a wonderful city,
of which the great monarch Ninus was king, and of which his celebrated
wife, Semiramis, was afterwards queen. Ninus is the reputed founder of
the Assyrian empire, and to him the magnificence of the capital is
chiefly attributed. He is the Sesostris of Assyrian history, and is
supposed to have flourished about twelve centuries before our era. The
names of many Assyrian monarchs occur in the Sacred Writings:
Sennacherib, who, seven centuries before our era, besieged Jerusalem
and invaded Judea; and Shalmanasaar, who carried away the ten tribes
of Israel. Later, the sovereignty of the Assyrian nation was
transferred to Babylon by Nebuchadonosor; and afterwards the Medes and
Babylonians laid the magnificent Nineveh in ruins, over which, many
centuries afterwards, Herodotus wandered wonderingly, and endeavoured
to glean from the pitiful wreck an idea of the bygone glory. The
centre of the ancient Assyrian empire was the present Turkish province
of Mosul; and hereabouts the researches of travellers have therefore
been concentrated. Opposite Mosul, the capital of the province, are
the two mounds which Mr. Rich hastily explored in 1820. These mounds
have long formed the subject of animated controversies; but it was not
before the year 1842 that any serious attempt was made to penetrate
beneath the grass that covered them. In this year M. Botta, the French
consul at Mosul, made some insignificant opening, but without
discovering any remarkable remains; and rumours having reached him
from Khorsabad, a few miles off, of some remains there, he caused some
vigorous excavations to be made there, and, aided by his government,
contrived to lodge an excellent collection of Assyrian sculptures in
the Louvre. About this time Mr. Layard was travelling through the
Turkish Asiatic provinces; and in the course of his wanderings paid
considerable attention to the mounds situated at Nimroud and near
Mosul. Convinced that under these hillocks lay precious relics of
antiquity, he procured an official letter to the Pasha of Mosul, and
in 1845 repaired to Nimroud, and hired Arabs to make excavations in
the mounds there. Even the first day's search disclosed valuable slabs
ornamented with bas-reliefs and inscriptions in the cuneiform
character, of the remotest antiquity, dating so far back as nineteen
centuries before our era, and conjectured to be part of the ruins of
the chief palace of Nimroud, destroyed about twelve centuries before
our era. If so, this point was the original centre of the great city
of Nineveh - that part said to have been built by Asshur; while the
surrounding mounds of Mosul, Khorsabad, and Kouyunjik, cover ruins of
a later date. Of Mr. Layard's discoveries in Assyria, that room, which
the visitor should now enter (called the NIMROUD ROOM), is full. The
room, as the visitor will at once perceive, is divided into eleven
compartments - the first being that to the left on entering. Here he
will begin his inspection of

ANCIENT ASSYRIAN SCULPTURE.

The first slabs to which the visitor will direct his attention in the
compartment (1), are from the north-west edifice, excavated from the
Nimroud Mound, which Mr. Layard conjectures to be the most ancient of
all the Assyrian ruins, dating, as we have stated, so far back as
nineteen centuries before our era. On one slab the visitor will notice
two standing draped figures, divided by the sacred tree, or tree of
life, generally worshipped in the East, and adhered to in the
religious systems of the Persians, here more like trellice-work than a
tree, holding chaplets in their hands; on two other slabs figures with
the sacred tree; and on a fourth we recognise the symbol of royalty
among the ancient nations of Asia Minor, the umbrella borne by an
eunuch over a monarch, who is represented returning from the chase, to
the airs played by two musicians. Five figures are respectfully
meeting him, and a dead animal lies at his feet. These specimens of
the state of art in Asia, twenty-seven centuries ago, may well excite
the curiosity of all classes of spectators. Proceeding to the second
compartment, the visitor will find eight more slabs, the first of
which from the north-west edifice, represents a battle-piece. Here
warriors are discharging their arrows, the king with the winged symbol
of divinity in a circle above him is proceeding at full gallop, and a
dead figure lies near him pierced with arrows. This scene is continued
on the second slab, where there are two chariots, each containing two
figures, and one decorated with the ferouher, or divine symbol. A
siege is represented upon the third slab. Here the besiegers are
applying the battering ram; figures are falling from the walls, while
from the three tiers of battlements the besieged are vigorously
discharging arrows. The visitor will notice the figures of two bow-men
on the fourth slab, before a lake, with part of a tower in the
distance, and the next three slabs have representations of the fall of
the city, picturesquely indicated. The deserted battering rams stand
near the walls; female prisoners are leaving the town, drawn by three
oxen; eunuchs are driving away the cattle of the vanquished, and
conducting prisoners with their hands bound.

The third compartment is occupied with slabs, the sculptured subjects
of which closely resemble those just described, except that marked 7,
where the king, in his chariot, is hunting the lion. He has had some
success, as one royal beast lies dead under his horse's feet, and
another is pierced by four arrows.

The fourth compartment contains some interesting slabs. The first two
represent one continuous subject. First, the visitor will notice the
figure of an Assyrian monarch, with his chariots and attendants behind
him, holding up arrows in token of peace to an advancing group, the
first figure of which is addressing the king, while on one side a
eunuch is introducing four captives. The two following slabs present
illustrations of the crossing of a river. A boat, in which the royal
chariot containing the king is deposited, is being dragged by two men
ahead, while others are rowing, and behind follow horses and smaller
boats. In their delineations of battles, the Assyrians were sagacious,
since they vividly pourtrayed the horrors of war, by carving dead
figures in the back ground, with birds preying upon them, even before
the fray is over. Of this kind of vivid representation the visitor has
a specimen on the next slab; where, while warriors are discharging
their arrows, a dead soldier is being devoured by a bird in the
back-ground, while another, as a pleasant suggestion of the impending
fate of the survivors, hovers above their heads. The passage of troops
over mountainous country, or through jungle, is the subject
illustrated in the two following slabs (6,7); these are from
Khorsabad, and include an inscription with the name of the monarch of
that locality. Two slingers appear on the eighth slab, with archers
attacking. On the next slab (9) enemies are represented in full
flight, with a chariot containing two figures in hot pursuit: and on
the last slab in this compartment, a city, with four battlemented
towers is represented, with women standing between the towers, and
chariots outside the walls.

Some curious fragments of large figures are included in the fifth
compartment. First, there is a bearded head covered with a horned cap;
also, the bust of a figure with the conical cap of the Assyrians: then
the head of a figure, with traces of paint yet upon it, crowned with a
tiara of rosettes. Here also is a fragment representing a king
attended by a strange symbolical winged figure holding the popular
fir-cone in his right hand, and in his left a basket, of which the
visitor will remark a perfect specimen presently. The examination of
these fragments will conduct the visitor to the end of the room, and
before turning to examine the contents of the opposite compartments,
he should pause to notice an obelisk placed hereabouts, which was dug
from the centre of the great mound at Nimroud. It is seven feet in
height, and is inscribed elaborately in the cuneiform character. On
its surface are also engraved representations of various animals
bearing presents.

The visitor will now turn and proceed back towards the door,
examining, by the way, the compartments on his left hand.

The first of these, or the sixth compartment, contains, in addition to
the fragments of figures including the head and shoulders of a king,
and the upper part of an eunuch, two slabs (1,2) upon which is
represented that fruitful subject of the Assyrian sculptor's chisel,
the siege of a castle. The castle, which is represented in the middle
of the battle-piece, and at the water's edge, is attacked by soldiers
on all sides. The vigour of the assailants is well described. On the
left the king directs the attack, with weeping women behind him; the
walls are being scaled by ladders; the besieged are hurling stones
from the ramparts, and casting fire upon a tower and ram, while the
assailants are quenching the flames with water, and two figures are
quietly picking holes in the walls in another direction. Hereabouts
the visitor should notice, placed against the window, a pastoral
subject - a man driving cattle. Upon the next slab, a war chariot in
full speed, passing over a dead lion, is represented; and on the sixth
and last slab of the compartment is another battlepiece. Here the
besieged castle is surrounded by water; one of the besieged is holding
arrows aloft in token of peace, while figures, on inflated skins, swim
towards the walls, and soldiers from the banks are aiming arrows at
them.

The fragments in the seventh compartment may be easily understood from
the descriptions of previous slabs.

The eighth compartment contains some remains which demand particular
notice. The first slab introduces us to a knowledge of the interiors
of Assyrian dwellings. Here the interior of a building is represented
divided into four distinct compartments, and exhibiting various people
at their several household duties. We have even a glimpse at an
Assyrian groom, who, in an adjoining building, is cleaning a horse.
Prisoners are introduced even here, in this domestic scene, conducted
by a warrior to an eunuch; and in the distance are soldiers, with
lions' skins, dancing to the vibrations of a guitar. The second slab
is a continuation of the first. Here men are mounted in war chariots,
while others holding the heads of their enemies in their hands are on
foot: and a bird, grasping in its claws a human head, soars above.
That slab marked 3, and placed against the window hereabouts, was
extracted from the centre of the great mound of Nimroud. Here camels,
preceded by a woman, are pourtrayed. The slab marked 5 bears the
representation of an Assyrian divinity, with four wings, the head
surmounted by the conical cap with two horns, and the left hand
holding a circlet of beads. A winged figure occurs also on the sixth
slab of this compartment, holding a bearded ear of corn in one hand,
and a goat in the other. The slabs of the ninth compartment have also
representations of winged figures. The fourth, with the eagle head,
and holding a fir-cone and a basket. This figure is thus described by
Mr. Layard: "A human body, clothed in robes similar to those of the
winged men already described, was surmounted by the head of an eagle
or of a vulture. The curved beak, of considerable length, was half
open, and displayed a narrow-pointed tongue, on which were still the
remains of red paint. On the shoulders fell the usual curled and bushy
hair of the Assyrian images, and a comb of feathers rose on the top of
the head. Two wings sprang from the back, and in either hand was the
square vessel and fir-cone. In a kind of girdle were three daggers,
the handle of one being in the form of the head of a bull. They may
have been of precious metal, but more probably of copper, inlaid with
ivory or enamel, as a few days before a copper dagger-handle,
precisely similar in form to one of those carried by this figure,
hollowed to receive an ornament of some such material, had been
discovered in the S.W. ruins, and is now preserved in the British
Museum. This effigy, which probably typified by its mythic form the
union of certain divine attributes, may perhaps be identified with the
god Nisroch, in whose temple Sennacherib was slain by his sons after
his return from his unsuccessful expedition against Jerusalem; the
word Nisr signifying, in all Semitic languages, 'an eagle.'"

The slabs arranged in the tenth compartment are interesting. On the
first, two horsemen, whose peaked helmets suggest that they are
Assyrians, are charging another horseman with their spears. Behind is
a bird carrying off the entrails of the killed. The second slab,
covered with an inscription, formed part of the northwest palace.
Winged figures are traceable on other slabs in this compartment; and
in the centre the visitor should remark the only Assyrian statue yet
discovered. It is a seated figure, headless. Between the tenth and
eleventh compartments are placed some painted bricks, used in adorning
the interior of Assyrian edifices. The eleventh and last compartment
contains two slabs, on the first of which is a monarch holding two
arrows in token of peace. Having fully examined these objects, the
visitor has done with the Nimroud room. Of the romantic stories
connected with the researches for the invaluable fragments it
contains, we should be glad to give the reader a faint sketch. How Mr.
Layard struggled against all kinds of difficulties; slept in hovels
not sheltered from the rain; used his table as his roof by night; rode
backwards and forwards from Nimroud to Mosul to expostulate with the
vexatious interferences of a tyrannical old pasha; cheered the labours
of his superstitious workmen; celebrated the discovery of certain
remains with substantial feastings and music: made peace with a
wandering Arab who threatened to rob him: these, and a thousand other
adventures, recorded in his narrative of his discoveries, give an
additional zest to the curiosity with which visitors enter this
Nimroud room.

And now the visitor may make his way back to the great entrance-hall
of the Museum, where his third visit should close. In the hall are
deposited four colossal specimens of sculpture from Nimroud. The first
of these, to which the visitor should direct his attention, is a
colossal figure of a winged human-headed bull, found by Mr. Layard at
the portal of a door at Nimroud. Of the discovery of this marvellous
specimen of ancient Assyrian art, Mr. Layard gives a graphic
account: - "I was returning to the mound, when I saw two Arabs urging
their mares to the top of their speed. On approaching me, they
stopped. 'Hasten, O Bey!' exclaimed one of them, 'hasten to the
diggers; for they have found Nimrod himself. Wallah! it is wonderful,
but it is true! we have seen him with our eyes. There is no god but
God!' and both joining in this pious exclamation, they galloped off,
without further words, in the direction of their tents. On reaching
the ruins I descended into the new trench, and found the workmen, who
had already seen me as I approached, standing near a heap of baskets
and cloaks. Whilst Awad advanced and asked for a present to celebrate
the occasion, the Arabs withdrew the screen they had hastily
constructed, and disclosed an enormous human head, sculptured in full
out of the alabaster of the country. They had uncovered the upper part
of a figure, the remainder of which was still buried in the earth. I
saw at once that the head must belong to a winged lion or bull,
similar to those of Khorsabad and Persepolis. It was in admirable
preservation. The expression was calm, yet majestic; and the outline
of the features showed a freedom and knowledge of art scarcely to be
looked for in works of so remote a period. I was not surprised that
the Arabs had been amazed and terrified at this apparition. It
required no stretch of imagination to conjure up the most strange
fancies. This gigantic head, blanched with age, thus rising from the
bowels of the earth, might well have belonged to one of those fearful
beings which are pictured in the traditions of the country as
appearing to mortals, slowly ascending from the regions below. One of
the workmen, on catching the first glimpse of the monster, had thrown
down his basket, and had run off towards Mosul as fast as his legs
could carry him." The marvellous fidelity and power with which this,
and the colossal human-headed bull are executed, must astonish the
most uninstructed observer. For an account of the marvellous labour at
the cost of which these colossal Assyrian works were conveyed from
Asia Minor to the British Museum, we must refer the reader to Mr.
Layard's excellent condensed account of his researches, published by
Mr. Murray. And with the contemplation of these mysterious monuments
of the past, the visitor should close his third visit to the national
Museum.

He may usefully recapitulate the points of his present visit. He has
been travelling for hours amongst the wrecks of the remote past. Over
vast tracts of land, where now the Turk lazily dreams away the hours,
or moves only to destroy the remains of the ancient civilisation of
his Asiatic provinces. Throughout this, his third visit, the visitor
has been exploring the revelations of the past, written upon the face
of Turkish provinces. The bigotry with which the explorers of Thebes,
Nimroud, and Xanthus had to contend, is written in their histories of
their labours. How when the human-headed bull was disclosed by the
pick-axes of the Chaldaeans, the Arabs scampered off, and how all the
natives thought that Nimroud himself - the mighty hunter - was rising
grimly from the earth, are points in the discovery of this treasure
which all should read. The vigour with which English and French
explorers have possessed themselves of the treasures of ancient Egypt,
the master-pieces from the Parthenon, the strange stone revelations of
Lycia, and the majestic colossi of ancient Assyria, contrasts forcibly
with the indolence of the Turk, who sat at hand to wonder at the
enthusiasm of his Christian visitors. No more pitiful exhibition of a
national character could be furnished by any passage in the history of
the world than that which describes the ignorant and superstitious
Turk grinding the sculpture of the Parthenon into mortar for his
dwelling house. Truly, in all respects, is this a matter to be
pondered by the general visitor, as he retreats from the national
Museum for the third time. He has not passed an idle day here,
wandering amid sphinxes, and tombs, and temples, and ancient gods.
From the confusion he may gather something that shall not be
altogether a useless subject for reflection as he wanders homewards.
He may link himself with the remote past, recognise the elements of
modern society in these stone revelations of the remote history of the
world, feel the vibration of the great human heart coming to him even
from the bowels of Egypt's pyramids. There he has their family
histories written on their tombstones by weeping relatives; their
religion, with all its debasing idolatry, strong in death, exhibiting
pleasantly the firmness of their faith; splendid sarcophagi tardily
wrought from massive rock, yet perseveringly accomplished in the
strong conviction that the dead would shake off the mummy bandages,
discharge the natron from their pores, reclaim their scattered
intestines, pass the brain back through the nose into the skull, and
once more feel quickening blood in the veins. Proudly men of the
passing century look back upon all this worship of animals, upon the
Egyptian Anubis, and the intestine genii with their animal heads; but
even here, in this field of speculation, where the historian's hand
wanders unsteadily about his page, and all wears a mythical air,
pulses of human emotion are felt that assure us of the remote past.
Strange that the chief chapters of ancient Egypt's history should have
been written for moderns by her undertakers!

END OF THIRD VISIT.




VISIT THE FOURTH.



The visitor will now enter the museum to complete his inspection of
its contents. His way lies once more to the west on entering the great
hall, into the first Sculpture Gallery, or that which he will
recognise as leading into the great central saloon. Here, as he pauses
on the threshold of a noble room filled with splendid specimens of
Greek art, he may recur to the historical points which these works
illustrate. Throughout this, his last visit, he will be occupied with
the examination of the works of the ancient Greeks. These works, as he
will notice, are of various degrees of excellence. Already has he
examined the rude labours of the Greek sculptors of Xanthus; and
to-day his journey will be amid those more modern and perfect labours,
performed when the talent of the Greeks was chiefly concentrated upon
European ground. Although these glories of remote antiquity are here
mostly in an admirable state of preservation, historians are generally
lost in contradictions when they attempt to point to any particular
piece of statuary as the labour of any known sculptor. The sculptor of
the Venus de Medici is not known; and the Apollo Belvedere is a
masterpiece, the author of which lies shrouded in the depths of the
past. Rude and harsh were the early performances of the Greeks. We
have histories of Greek sculptors who flourished many hundred years
before our era; and of these the mythical Daedalus is the oldest and
most renowned. This sculptor is reported to have flourished fourteen
centuries before the Christian era. He is said to have fashioned
colossal wooden statues; and Pausanias mentions his statue of Hercules
in the possession of the Thebans, and his wooden Venus in the
possession of the Delians. His Hercules, however, appears to have been
considered his masterpiece; and Flaxman, commenting upon the antiquity
of the figures of Hercules found on some coins, seems to think that we
may not unreasonably conjecture that these are copies from the
masterpiece of Daedalus. Other sculptors of the same name, appear to
have flourished in the Achaic period of Grecian history. Indeed it is
shrewdly conjectured that Daedalus derived his name from wooden
statues called Daedala; and that amongst the ancient Greeks, Daedalus
meant nothing more than one skilled in making Daedala. The earliest
sculptures of the Greeks were fashioned of materials easily worked, as
plaster, clay, and wood. Later they worked ivory, and began to
understand the value of metals in statuary; and about five centuries
before the Christian era, marble was used by sculptors for detached
figures. In the infancy of Greek art, when sculptors were gradually
acquiring the skill to fashion their creations out of the most durable
material, many combinations of wood, stone, and metal were used, which
would sadly shock the modern sculptor's eye; - wooden figures burnished
with gold, and with painted vermilion faces, were fashioned in the age
of Phidias; and it is believed by some, that this immortal sculptor
helped to produce a statue of Jupiter, the face of which was of ivory
and gold, and the body of gypsum and clay. Phidias may be fairly
acknowledged as the first great Greek sculptor, of whose career and
whose works we have indisputable accounts. He founded, and represents
all the excellencies of the highest school of Greek art. The sculptors
who came after him, as Lysippus the favourite of the great Alexander,
paid greater regard to graces of detail and to finish; but of those
sublime effects, those forms of gods in human shape which really


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Online LibraryW. Blanchard JerroldHow to See the British Museum in Four Visits → online text (page 13 of 17)