Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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9 / Portraits

Royal Portrait Head (“Head of Sargon the Great”)
Royal Portrait Head (“Head of Sargon the Great”)
Artist / Origin Unknown artist, Nineveh
Region: West Asia
Date Akkadian Period, ca. 2300–2200 BCE
Material Bronze
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: 12 in. (30.7 cm.)
Location Iraq Museum, Baghdad, Iraq
Credit SCALA/Art Resource, NY

expert perspective

Zainab BahraniProfessor of Ancient Near Eastern Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University

Royal Portrait Head (“Head of Sargon the Great”)

» Unknown artist, Nineveh

expert perspective

Zainab Bahrani Zainab Bahrani Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University

In the Western tradition we tend to think of representation and reality as entirely different realms. In the ancient Near East that doesn’t seem to have been the case. The imagery that they had very often kind of crossed between, hovered between these two realms of reality and representation. An image could become a thing in itself, could have agency, could actually make things happen in the real, could participate in reality in ways that would be to us completely illogical, but to the ancients made a great deal of sense. So they considered, for example, to harm an image of a king would be a way to harm the king himself, even if that king had long been dead. If you destroyed his image or erased his name this would be a way of destroying his memory.” 

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