Ancient Art
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Relief: Human-headed genie watering sacred tree

883–859 B.C.

Gypseous alabaster with traces of paint

224.8 x 184.8 cm (88 1/2 x 72 3/4 in.)
Yale University Purchase
This large relief depicts a standing, human-headed male figure with wings. He wears a kilt beneath a fringed robe, a helmet, sandals, and an assortment of jewelry, body ornaments, and small weapons. Holding a pail in his left hand, he reaches with his right to pick the uppermost cone from a sacred tree. Although frequently referred to as a “genie,” the Assyrian word apkallu, meaning “sage,” may be a more appropriate term for the protective spirit embodied by such a figure. This relief, along with many others showing human- (1854.4–.5) and bird-headed apkallu (1854.3), as well as eunuchs (1854.2.1) and other attendants, once lined the walls of the palace built by the Assyrian king Assurnasirpal II at ancient Kalhu (present-day Nimrud, Iraq). Although only traces of pigment survive on most of these reliefs, originally they would have been brightly painted. The cuneiform inscription running horizontally across the middle of the relief recounts the military, administrative, and religious achievements of the king.
Near Eastern, Assyrian
Iron Age
Country Nimrud, Tigris, Assyria, Iraq, Near East, Asia
On view*

Palace of Assurnasirpal II, Room S or T; purchased from the British excavations at Nimrud.


Albert Tobias Clay, The Yale Babylonian Collection, 2 vols. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1915), 12, fig. 18.

M. Vaughn, “Assyrian Sculptures in America,” International Studio 86 (1927): 59.

Ferris J. Stephens, Votive and Historical Texts from Babylonia and Assyria, 9 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1937), 30.

J. B. Stearns, Reliefs from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II (Graz, Austria: Archiv für Orientforschung, 1961), 33–34, pl. 33, no. A-VI-a-ii-9.

Julian E. Reade, “Twelve Ashurnasirpal Reliefs,” Iraq 27 (1965): 134.

Richard D. Barnett, Assyrian Sculpture in the British Museum (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1975).

Samuel M. Paley, King of the World (Brooklyn: Brooklyn Museum of Art, 1976), 72–73.

Samuel M. Paley and Richard P. Sobolewski, The Reconstruction of the Relief Representations and Their Positions in the Northwest Palace at Kalhu (Nimrud) II (Mainz, Germany: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1987), 40, S-8 pls. 2, 9, ill.

Susan B. Matheson, Art for Yale: A History of the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2001), 26–29, fig. 24.

Peter Gardella, American Angels: Useful Spirits in the Material World (Lawrence, Kans.: University Press of Kansas, 2007), 51, ill.

Ada Cohen and Steven E. Kangas, Assyrian Reliefs from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2010), 7, 10, 22.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.