Assyrian Feet

The guard at the Hood Museum of Dartmouth college must have thought I was a little crazy: there I was, down on my knees, photographing the very bottom of the large Assyrian reliefs in their collection, scuttling along, still on my knees, from one piece to another. I’m sure I looked pretty silly, but when I suddenly see something that touches me, who cares? These are details of a group of reliefs from the Northwest Palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud, Iraq, 883-559 BCE and are made of gypsum (you can see a complete one here.)


I became aware of how our feet touch the earth, the feel of gravity as the gracefully drawn sandaled feet  moved downward from heel to toe. Each line subtly expresses an illusion of swelling form, simply and with clarity. Look at the different shapes of the toenails, as though they are portraits of specific individuals. The traces of original paint remind me that the reliefs had been brightly colored.

I loved the relationship of the organic form of toes to the flowing patterns of decorative clothing.

The feet seemed the most personal, most vulnerable, and least stylized part of the sculpture. The hands looked like undifferentiated cylinders, the faces were in the Assyrian style, the musculature vigorous and decorative, but the feet! they were very sensitively modeled, and so achingly human.