September 23, 2018

Nineveh – Heart of an Ancient Empire

Exhibition ‘Nineveh’ in the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities
The ancient Assyrian capital in the limelight

Nineveh, once the capital of the powerful Assyrian Empire and the largest city in the world, is being brought back to life in The Netherlands this winter.

The Dutch National Museum of Antiquities (the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden) is assembling 250 of Nineveh’s finest pieces from international museums for this event – the first such endeavour since the discovery of the ruins of the ancient city in present-day northern Iraq over 180 years ago. The exhibition spans over 9,000 years of history, from the first habitation of the site of Nineveh and the fall of the Assyrian Empire to the adventurous archaeological excavations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The Biblical Nineveh will also receive attention. The story ends with the recent destruction of the ruins and a discussion on the importance of world heritage.

‘Nineveh – Heart of an Empire’ will be on view from 20 October 2017 to 25 March 2018.

Nineveh, the residence of the Assyrian kings, was renowned in antiquity for its awe-inspiring palaces, splendid temples, city walls stretching for many kilometres, and lush gardens. The exhibition ‘Nineveh’ introduces visitors to this city and its history, to its inhabitants and the many gods they worshipped. It also recalls the Biblical prophet Jonah in Nineveh and the city’s fate after the destruction of 612.

The items on view include dozens of reliefs from the palaces, impressive statues of winged bulls, a gold death mask, clay tablets from the oldest library in the world, rare ivory marquetry, weapons, and jewellery. Original films, photographs and prints of excavations dating from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries illustrate the stories of the archaeologists who worked in Nineveh – including tales of greed, mayhem, and espionage.

Finally, the exhibition dwells on the predicament of heritage in times of crisis and on ways of preserving the past for the future. In this context, computer animations of the ancient city will be on view in Leiden. In addition, an international research team (including members from Delft University of Technology) have reconstructed some decorated walls of a palace interior from Nineveh in 3D and in colour. The originals, in Iraq, were destroyed during the war in 2016.

While this exhibition is on view, all visitors (aged 18 and older) will be charged a supplement of €2.50. Optional audio guides are available (also in English), as well as guided tours, lectures, courses, a Minecraft workshop on the preservation of cultural heritage, an academic symposium, activities for children in the school holidays, and an evening of debate. The exhibition is also accompanied by a general publication (€19.95, in Dutch), an academic publication (€49.95, English), and a special issue of the RMO Magazine (published by the Society of Friends of the National Museum of Antiquities, €3.50, Dutch).

Rich Past
Long before Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire, a powerful empire arose in the Near East: the Assyrian Empire, which extended from the Mediterranean to the hinterland of present-day Iran and from Turkey to Egypt. Around 700 BC, Nineveh, which lay on the banks of the River Tigris in present-day Iraq, was its capital.

It was the largest and most important city in the world, with a population of over 100,000. Legendary kings such as Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal built monumental palaces and temples there, laid out lush gardens with waterfalls and created huge libraries decorated with magnificent reliefs. In 612 BC, Nineveh was destroyed by the enemies of the Assyrian Empire, including the Babylonians.

On the opposite side of the River Tigris arose the city of Mosul, which – 1,000 years later – would acquire the central position in this region. Nineveh fell into oblivion, but the stories about the ancient city never ceased to inspire artists, writers, and historians. In 1842 the first archaeologists started researching the ruins, and a succession of Western adventurers descended on the site. For decades, archaeological teams from different countries worked here. Their finds became dispersed among numerous museums around the world, including the British Museum, the Musée du Louvre, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibition in Leiden brings numerous works from Nineveh together for the first time in the modern era.

International partnership
The exhibition ‘Nineveh – Heart of an Empire’ enjoys the patronage of UNESCO and is an international collaboration involving loans from numerous museums, libraries and other institutions: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the British Museum, London; Musée du Louvre, Paris; the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin; the Vatican Museums, Vatican City; the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad; the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, Berlin; the Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels; the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence; the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Museo Barracco, Rome; Museo Archeologico, Turin; Museo Archeologico, Venice, the Israel Museum, Jerusalem; the Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam; the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; the University Library of the Free University, Amsterdam; the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague; Museum Boerhaave, Leiden; the Netherlands Institute for the Near East, Leiden; the University Libraries, Leiden; the National Military Museum, Soest; and the Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam.

The exhibition was produced in partnership with Delft University of Technology; Tokyo University of Arts; the University of Leiden; the Università di Udine; the Università di Torino and Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino (CRAST); the University of Northampton; the Embassy of the Netherlands in Iraq; the Netherlands UNESCO Commission; the Prince Claus Fund; the Embassy of Iraq in the Netherlands; the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities of Iraq; The Economist; Sketchfab; QdepQ; the Italian Restoration Centre in Rome; Océ-Technologies B.V.; ARTE, Strasbourg; OAID, Oxford; Landscape, Leiden.
The exhibition Nineveh – Heart of an Empire was made possible by the sponsorship of the Blockbuster Fund, the Mondrian Fund, the Turing Foundation, the 1818 Fund, Prince Bernhard Cultural Fund, the Prince Claus Fund, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, and the Society of Corporate Friends of the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden. National Geographic is a media partner. The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden enjoys the support of the BankGiro Loterij.


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