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Relief carving of Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (r. ca. 883-859 BC). Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art / Public Domain.

Realism in Ancient Mesopotamian Relief Carvings (Video)

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In the domain of ancient Mesopotamian art, the reliefs from Ashurnasirpal II's palace reign supreme. These monumental creations, though dispersed far and wide by Henry Austen Layard, possess a curious power. While some may dismiss them as repetitive and static, they miss the underlying brilliance. These reliefs, meticulously carved and colossal in scale, were not mere reproductions. Instead, they served a profound purpose: to imbue kingship with an eternal essence. Every detail, down to the minutest incision on their garments, was a deliberate act of replication. The same narratives echoed on both macro and micro levels, crafting a message of boundless sovereignty.

Approach them closely, and the relentless recurrence of motifs becomes apparent. Each repetition, though slightly varied, resonates with the same message: kingship is limitless. The resulting effect is nothing short of mesmerizing, almost supernatural. It defies the notion of creating naturalistic art; their purpose was not to mimic reality but to convey an abstract concept. These reliefs, far from static, achieve a state of hyperreality. They breathe life into kingship through ceaseless duplication, forging an infinite echo that captivates the beholder. In a world where uniqueness is often prized, these ancient artworks remind us that repetition, when wielded with intent, can birth a profound and dizzying experience.

Top image: Relief carving of Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (r. ca. 883-859 BC). Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art / Public Domain.

By Robbie Mitchell

 
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Robbie

I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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