Department of Oriental Antiquities, Louvre Museum, Paris, France

The Department of Oriental Antiquities of the Louvre Museum in Paris, dates from 1881 and presents an overview of early Near Eastern civilization and “first settlements”, before the arrival of Islam. The Department of Oriental Antiquities preserves objects from a region located between present-day India and the Mediterranean Sea (Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan …).

It is one of the three most important collections in the world (along with those of theBritish Museum and the Pergamon Museum) with more than 150,000 objects. The department presents 6,500 works in around thirty rooms, including universal masterpieces such as the Code of Hammurabi or the impressive Lamassus from the palace of Khorsabad.

It offers an almost complete panorama of the ancient civilizations of the Near and Middle East. The collection’s development corresponds to archaeological work such as Paul-Émile Botta’s 1843 expedition to Khorsabad and the discovery of Sargon II’s palace. These finds formed the basis of the Assyrian museum, the precursor to today’s department.

The museum contains exhibits from Sumer and the city of Akkad, with monuments such as the Prince of Lagash’s Stele of the Vultures from 2450 BC and the stele erected by Naram-Sin, King of Akkad, to celebrate a victory over barbarians in the Zagros Mountains. The 2.25-metre (7.38 ft) Code of Hammurabi, discovered in 1901, displays Babylonian Laws prominently, so that no man could plead their ignorance. The 18th-century BC mural of the Investiture of Zimrilim and the 25th-century BC Statue of Ebih-Il found in the ancient city-state of Mari are also on display at the museum.

The Persian portion of Louvre contains work from the archaic period, like the Funerary Head and the Persian Archers of Darius I. This section also contains rare objects from Persepolis which were also lent to the British Museum for its Ancient Persia exhibition in 2005.

The Assyrian Museum of the Louvre, inaugurated in 1847 and then attached to the Department of Antiquities, is the first museum in the world devoted to Oriental antiquities. The Department of Oriental Antiquities is officially created by decree of theAugust 20, 1881, following the excavations of Tello and the considerable progress in the rediscovery of Eastern antiquity to which the section of the Assyrian museum contributed actively. Throughout the 19th century and during the first half of the 20th century, the collections developed thanks to the explorations and excavations carried out by French diplomats and archaeologists in the Near and Middle East, in particular on the sites of Khorsabad, Tello, Susa, Mari, Ugarit or even Byblos.

With more than 150,000 objects, the Department of Oriental Antiquities of the Louvre Museum presents one of the most important collections in the world, which makes it possible to offer one of the most complete panoramas of the ancient history of the Near and Middle East. The current presentation of the Department of Oriental Antiquities is articulated around three main areas of collections, distributed according to geographical and cultural groups: Mesopotamia; Ancient Iran (Elam, Persia…) and Central Asia; Pays du Levant.

These works cover some 8,000 years of history over an immense territory ranging for certain periods from Central Asia to Spain and from the Black Sea to the Indian Ocean. Since the Neolithic era, many cultures and civilizations have succeeded each other in this region, where we see in particular the appearance of a political, military and religious administration, or the birth of the State according to a common formula. It is also the cradle of writing, which appeared around -3300 in Uruk, Mesopotamia.

Khorsabad courtyard
The Khorsabad courtyard presents the remains of a gigantic city built in barely ten years, at the end of the 8th century BC. At that time, the north of present-day Iraq belonged to the powerful Assyrian Empire. King Sargon II decides to build a new capital in Khorsabad, near Mosul. But on the death of its founder, the city lost its status as capital. It was not until the 19th century that French archaeologists rediscovered the remains of the site. This is how the first Assyrian museum in the world was born in the Louvre.

In the 8th century BC, King Sargon II reigned over the Assyrian Empire. Towards -713, he takes a strong decision which must establish his authority: to found a new capital. He chose a vast site at the foot of Mount, in the north of present-day Iraq. This will be Dûr-Sharrukin, the “fortress of Sargon”. The king undertook the construction of this new city which must be commensurate with his omnipotence. Its dimensions exceed the largest cities of the ancient world. His palace alone has 200 rooms and courtyards.

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But on the death of Sargon II in -705, his son and successor, King Sennacherib, abandoned the work of the still unfinished city to transfer the capital to Nineveh. Sargon II was killed in a fierce battle. The gradually forgotten site was only found in 1843, during pioneering excavations undertaken by Paul-Émile Botta, vice-consul of France in Mosul. This is the beginning of Mesopotamian and more broadly Eastern archaeology. With this discovery reappear the vestiges of a forgotten civilization.

Under the glass roof of the courtyard, the light plays on the large sculpted plaques. Originally, many of these reliefs were also in a courtyard but out in the open. Many adorned the great court of honor which gave access to the throne room in the gigantic palace of Sargon II. These alabaster slabs covered the base of the mudbrick walls and were accented with rich colors, including blue and red. We can still see some traces of it, especially on the tiara (royal crown) worn by Sargon II. The bas-reliefs represent various scenes (bow hunting, processions of dignitaries) which evoke life at the court of Sargon II and glorify the king. Several panels seem to show the transport of cedar wood from Lebanon to build the new capital.

This sumptuous decor also had a magical function. This is particularly the case of the protective spirits carved on the walls: they were to watch over the city and its palace. They are therefore represented in places that require special protection, such as doors. This is why the passages are framed by monumental winged bulls. Each was carved from a single gigantic block of alabaster and weighs approximately 28 tons. These fantastic creatures, called aladlammû or lamassu, have the body and ears of bulls, the wings of an eagle and a human face wearing a high tiara, similar to representations of Sargon II. This hybrid nature as well as the double or triple horns are marks of their divinity in the Mesopotamian world. Combining the powers of these different beings, their power protects the city and its palace in a beneficial way.

Angoulême Gallery
In the row of five rooms with neoclassical decor are exhibited the collections of Oriental Antiquities and in particular works from the Levant and ancient Iran. But these rooms had other functions before being transformed into museum rooms. Among the 100,000 objects in the Oriental Antiquities collection, the Angoulême gallery presents works from the Levant, that is to say from present-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Cyprus. Some of these works date back to 7000 BC. They are among the oldest in the museum’s collections.

Discovered for the most part during French archaeological campaigns, they testify to the artistic refinement of this zone of exchange between the Mediterranean and Asia where multiple influences intersect. This crossroads between Egypt, Mesopotamia, Anatolia and the Aegean world saw the development of prosperous cities like Byblos and Ugarit. Statues, stelae and mythological texts evoke the religious world of these kingdoms whose memory the Bible has transmitted to us. The ivory boxes, gold cups and jewels reveal its richness and artistic abundance.

Louvre Museum
The Louvre is the world’s most-visited museum, and a historic landmark in Paris, France. The Louvre Museum is a Parisian art and archeology museum housed in the former royal palace of the Louvre. Opened in 1793, it is one of the largest and richest museums in the world, but also the busiest with nearly 9 million visitors a year. It is the home of some of the best-known works of art, including the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo.

The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built in the late 12th to 13th century under Philip II. Remnants of the Medieval Louvre fortress are visible in the basement of the museum. Due to urban expansion, the fortress eventually lost its defensive function, and in 1546 Francis I converted it into the primary residence of the French Kings. The building was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace.

The Musée du Louvre contains more than 380,000 objects and displays 35,000 works of art in eight curatorial departments with more than 60,600 square metres (652,000 sq ft) dedicated to the permanent collection. The Louvre exhibits sculptures, objets d’art, paintings, drawings, and archaeological finds. The Louvre Museum presents very varied collections, with a large part devoted to the art and civilizations of Antiquity: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and RomeLogo indicating tariffs to quote that they; medieval Europe (setting around the ruins of the keep of Philippe-Auguste, on which the Louvre was built) and Napoleonic France are also widely represented.

The Louvre has a long history of artistic and historical conservation, from the Ancien Régime to the present day. Following the departure of Louis XIV for the Palace of Versailles at the end of the 17th century century, part of the royal collections of paintings and antique sculptures are stored there. After having housed several academies for a century, including that of painting and sculpture, as well as various artists housed by the king, the former royal palace was truly transformed during the Revolution into a “Central Museum of the Arts of the Republic”. It opened in 1793, exhibiting around 660 works, mainly from royal collections or confiscated from emigrant nobles or from churches. Subsequently, the collections will continue to be enriched by wartime spoils, acquisitions, sponsorships, legacies, donations, and archaeological discoveries.

Located in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, between the right bank of the Seine and the rue de Rivoli, the museum is distinguished by the glass pyramid of its reception hall, erected in 1989 in the Napoleon courtyard and which has become emblematic, while the equestrian statue of Louis XIV constitutes the starting point of the Parisian historical axis. Among his most famous plays are The Mona Lisa, The Venus de Milo, The Crouching Scribe, The Victory of Samothrace, and The Code of Hammurabi.

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