“The reliefs show people being impaled on spikes and the enemy being decapitated and sometimes flayed alive. I mean it’s absolutely brutal, and it was intended to intimidate.”
With a powerful empire centered on the Tigris River—today in northern Iraq—the Assyrians were one of the great and formative cultures of the ancient world. They used their military might to conquer and control an extensive territory, which at its peak in the seventh century BCE reached from Syria in the West into Turkey and Iran in the North. Today, much is known about Assyrian culture because of the sheer number of texts and narrative artworks they left behind. In particular, their shallow relief sculptures depict nuanced portrayals of battles, mythology, and court life. These stone reliefs decorated both public and private spaces in Assyrian palaces. Their detail and expressiveness make them among the most beautiful and important works of ancient art that exist today.
In this episode, Getty Museum director Timothy Potts discusses Assyrian culture and its masterful relief sculptures. A selection of these sculptures is on loan from the British Museum to the Getty Villa through September 2022 and will be on view when the Museum reopens to the public in 2021.
For images, transcripts, and more, visit getty.edu/podcasts.