Head of an Akkadian ruler, from Nineveh (modern Kuyunjik), Iraq, ca. 2250–2200 BC, Copper.
A magnificent copper head of an Akkadian king found at Nineveh embodies the concept of absolute monarchy. The head is all that survives of a statue that was knocked over in antiquity, perhaps when the Medes, a people that occupied the land south of the Caspian Sea, sacked Nineveh in 612 BC. But the damage to the portrait was not due solely to the statue’s toppling. There are also signs of deliberate mutilation. To make a political statement, the enemy gouged out the eyes (once inlaid with precious or semiprecious stones), broke off the lower part of the beard, and slashed the ears of the royal portrait. Nonetheless, the king’s majestic serenity, dignity, and authority are evident. So, too, is the masterful way the sculptor balanced naturalism and abstract patterning. The artist carefully observed and recorded the man’s distinctive features— the profile of the nose and the long, curly beard—and brilliantly communicated the differing textures of flesh and hair, even the contrasting textures of the mustache, beard, and braided hair on the top of the head. The coiffure’s triangles, lozenges, and overlapping disks of hair and the great arching eyebrows that give so much character to the portrait reveal that the sculptor was also sensitive to formal pattern. No less remarkable is the fact this is a life-size, hollow-cast metal sculpture, one of the earliest known. The head demonstrates the artisan’s sophisticated skill in casting and polishing copper and in engraving the details. The portrait is the earliest known great monumental work of hollow-cast sculpture.
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