Formal Analysis of "Relief of a Winged Genius"

Formal Analysis of “Relief of a Winged Genius” Yahaira Guzman Art History 09/29/10 Relief of a winged genius is a two-dimensional stone relief sculpture currently located on the first floor of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, in the Ancient Near East Gallery (Accession number: 81. 56). It is an Assyrian artifact excavated from the palace walls of the capital of ancient Nimrud, dating between 883-859 B. C. The unknown artist’s deliberate use of size, material, scale, style and content, together with the sculpture’s original setting, reflects the politically driven agenda during the reign of Ashurnasirpal II.

Upon first viewing Relief of a winged genius, one cannot help but notice the enormity of the stone sculpture, which stands approximately seven feet long by six feet wide. The imposing size of this sculpture immediately impresses upon ones mind its strength and power. The material of which the sculpture is composed – gypsum or alabaster – further adds to the impression of strength as well as creating a sense of permanence.

When considering the sculpture’s origin within the walls of the Ashurnasirpal’s II palace, it is not difficult to imagine that this relief was designed with the purpose to intimidate and impress people with his power, especially during a time when warfare was a perpetual threat. The focal point of the sculpture is the winged male figure bearing a sword in his right hand. The full length of his body fills up the space within the sculpture in proportion to it’s rectangular frame.

What immediately stands out about this figure is the exaggerated musculature of his forearms and lower left leg, again the element of strength and power is emphasized here. Outfitted with wings, a horned headdress and a sword, one can deduce that he is a warrior and/or a protective being of some sort with abilities that are beyond the realm of human possibility. The placement of such a figure within the walls of Ashurnasirpal II’s palace conveys the message that he is in alliance with divine forces that have lent themselves to his service and protection should anyone dare challenge his authority.

After one takes in the armed and protective aura of the Winged Being, the eyes are struck by the the very detailed workings of his hair and beard. His thick, curly and luxuriant hair suggests the kind of hair that only the most virile of men posess. This human aspect of the winged being serves as way to reflect the kings own power and virility. In terms of the object’s anatomy, one notices the markings that are inscribed over the area that encompasses the space directly above his left knee and below the top of the sword in his right hand, spanning the full width of the sculpture.

These markings are actually text and is a form of writing technique called Cuneiform. The same text that is on Relief of A Winged Genius also appears on other reliefs within the palace walls. The inscription tells of the story of the kings lineage, his military victories, how he founded Kalhu (present-day Nimrud, Iraq) and built his palace. These inscriptions are a perfect example of political propaganda which purposely highlight the kings skill and accomplishments.

Considering the artist’s choice of medium, form, and content, it’s clear that he or she chose their elements very carefully to convey a message of power, strength, and permanence to the intended viewer at the time. It’s clear that this artist was comissioned by Ashurnasirpal II to portray him as a great and indestructible leader. This work of art was purposely crafted to persuade the people of this time into seeing that king Ashurnasirpal II was a gifted leader who was favored by the gods, and as such everyone should faithfully place their welfare in his hands.

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