As Navari notes in her catalogue of the Blackmer collection, Layard’s discoveries in Iraq made him a ‘popular hero’ back in Britain. Decipherment of thousands of cuneiform tablets from the ‘King’s Library’ confirmed that he had discovered ancient Nineveh.
Layard’s excavations were initially sponsored by the British Ambassador in Constantinople, but in 1847 the British Museum stepped in. Export of antiquities, including examples of the massive gate guardians – human-headed winged bulls and lions, which inspired the binding of this volume – was authorised by the Ottoman government, and they were shipped to London in 1852.
The binding is an early and inventive western interpretation of Assyrian art; Layard’s discoveries created a sensation when they arrived. National pride was served because Layard had outmanoeuvred the French and excavated Nineveh first, but ancient Assyrian art and culture, with its Biblical resonances, was wholly new to the Victorian public and an ‘Assyrian revival’ swiftly made its presence felt in the spheres of fine and decorative arts.
Condition & Materials
First edition. 8vo. pp. xxiv, 686, [ii] adverts + 5 b/w folding maps and plans, and 11 lithographed plates, of which two are folding and 8 are sepia tinted. Numerous wood engravings in the text, many full page. Brown publisher’s cloth embossed with an Assyrian winged bull (the face on the spine and the flanks on the covers), somewaht rubbed and worn, rebacked preserving the original spine. Contemporary ownership signature, Thomas King, on front pastedown.