April 26, 1957: Long Journey of 12 Nimrud Reliefs Comes to End; Represent Last Remaining Collection of Royal Assyrian Reliefs Available To Any Museum
Twelve royal reliefs of Ancient Assyria, dating from 880 B.C., recently acquired for the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum through a generous gift, will go on view tomorrow, April 27, in the Hagop Kevorkian Gallery of Ancient Middle East, a new gallery named for the donor. It is located on the third floor, adjacent to the Museum’s world-renowned collection of Egyptian art.
In addition to the 12 reliefs, which came from the Northwest Palace constructed at the royal city of Kalhu (modern Nimrud) during the reign of the ruthless monarch, Assur-nasir-pal II, a number of precious Near and Middle Eastern objects of gold, silver, bronze and stone are shown temporarily. The art objects, together with a selection of 16th to 18th century Persian rugs, which dramatize a later use of ancient design motifs, are on temporary loan from the collections of Hagop Kevorkian and the Kevorkian Foundation. Several of the small objects have been lent from the Guennol collection of Mr. and Mrs. A. Bradley Martin and Mr. and Mrs. Leon Pomerance.
Reliefs Portray Religious Ceremonies
Under the direction of John D. Cooney, Curator of Egyptian Art of the Museum, the 12 reliefs, sculptured with scenes of the King and his attendants engaged in religious ceremonies, have been set spaciously against walls toned to complement the color of the mottled grey stone. It was in this effective manner that the Museum’s reliefs, together with several hundred others depicting military exploits, siege of cities, or more peaceful scenes such as the royal hunting expeditions or banquets, are known to have graced the walls of the royal palace in the short-lived splendour of the Ancient Assyrian Empire.
Uncovered in Mid-Nineteenth Century
It was not until the mid-nineteenth century - some 2500 years after the Assyrian Empire had fallen into oblivion - that a young Englishman, Austen Henry Layard, floating down the Tigris on a raft, had occasion to examine the mound of Nimrud and eventually to uncover the sculptures of the Northwest Palace. The first shipment of reliefs, received by the BrItish Museum in l847, aroused the interest of antiquarians, students of Scriptures and the public alike to a civilization of which material traces had appeared to be lost.
The fever of interest spread abroad, and through the combined efforts of two British merchants and the foresight of Henry Stevens of Vermont, who purchased a number of the slabs, the Museum's reliefs were on route to the United States in 1853. Under Mr. Steven’s zealous direction, the reliefs traveled from New York to Boston for consideration by the Trustees of the Public Library, under construction at that time, and then to the Boston Athenaenum where they remained on loan until 1858.
Since the reliefs were not purchased by the Bostonians, Mr. Stevens had them transferred to New York where they were secured for the New-York Historical Society by James Lenox (best known to New Yorkers as a co-founder of the New York Public Library). The reliefs remained on view at the Society from 1858 to 1908, and in their possession until 1955. In 1937 they were loaned to the Brooklyn Museum, and finally in 1955 Mr. Hagop Kevorkian generously presented them to this Museum, and they have been installed through funds from the Kevorkian Foundation.
In making the announcement of the gift, Edgar C. Schenck, Director of the Museum, noted that the reliefs, which form an impressive record of rites long-forgotten and dimly understood, add to the collections another basic document for the study of the ancient history of the western world.
The spring Bulletin of the Museum is devoted to a history and description of the reliefs contributod by Robert H. Dyson, Jr., of the University Museum, Philadelphia.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1953 - 1970. 1957, 036-37.