Winged Genie Fertilizing a Date Tree
Assyrian (Nimrud, Iraq), c. 884-60 BCE.
Gypsum, 91 1/4 x 71 1/4 in. (231.8 x 181 cm). The Nelson-Atkins
Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; Purchase: Nelson Trust. Rights
This winged figure once guarded a doorway in the palace of King Ashurnasirpal
II of Calah, Assyria (modern Nimrud, Iraq). An inscription carved in cuneiform
identifies Ashurnasirpal as the palaces builder and summarizes his
conquests. This text was carved more than four hundred times on stone
panels that covered the palaces walls and floors. The kings
goal was to preserve his name and achievements so long as the palace stood-which,
the text asserts, would be for all eternity. This elaborate
and expensive effort to preserve the kings name and memory against
the ravages of time was characteristic of Assyrian kings.
In this low-relief carving, a winged figure fertilizes a date tree. To
produce an abundant crop, date palms require hand-pollination. The objects
held by the figure suggest this process: the bumpy oval resembles the
male date flower clusters shaken over female flowers. The bucket recalls
the water that is then sprinkled to hold the pollen in place. All these
actions are necessary to make date orchards fruitful. The winged figures
horned cap identifies him as a god. In his hands, the gesture of pollination
becomes one of divine blessing that recognizes the cyclical nature of
seasonal time related to agricultural cycles.
Today, Ashurnasirpals palace is an excavated ruin. Its carvings,
now scattered in museums worldwide, remain as a perpetual reminder of
the kings dream of abundance and everlasting fame.