The second French mission in Khorsabad

The second French mission in Khorsabad

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  • The Pasha of Mosul visiting the excavations of Khorsabad.

    THOMAS Félix (1815 - 1875)

  • The great Assyrian hall.

To close

Title: The Pasha of Mosul visiting the excavations of Khorsabad.

Author : THOMAS Félix (1815 - 1875)

Date shown: 1853

Dimensions: Height 100 - Width 160

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - S. Maréchallesite web

Picture reference: 10-511336 / RF2010-2

The Pasha of Mosul visiting the excavations of Khorsabad.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - S. Maréchalle

To close

Title: The great Assyrian hall.

Author :

Creation date : 1863

Date shown: 1863

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Engraving: Charles Maurand, engraver, and Augustin Régis (1813-1800), painter

Storage location: Central Library of National Museums website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Picture reference: 07-52172

The great Assyrian hall.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Publication date: May 2011

Historical context

A second French mission in Khorsabad

In 1851, the National Assembly voted a credit for the continuation of the excavations carried out in 1843-1844 by Paul-Émile Botta in the palace of Assyrian king Sargon II in Dur Sharrukin, Iraq. He is also interested in the city wall, pierced by seven monumental gates.

Having chosen to resort to photography, Victor Place takes engineer Gabriel Tranchand to take pictures of the construction site and the works - the very first pictures of archaeological excavations in the Middle East. His work illustrates the work of Victor Place, Nineveh and Assyria, published in 1867.

Félix Thomas was awarded the Prix de Rome in architecture in 1845, but upon his return from Mesopotamia he attended Charles Gleyre's painting studio. From 1855, he devoted himself mainly to painting and specialized in orientalist works inspired by his travels and to which he incorporated his survey work.

The documents produced on the spot by the future painter are all the more precious for the archaeologist as most of the discoveries of Victor Place were lost in May 1855: the boats carrying the precious antiquities were wrecked, victims of Bedouins on the Shatt al-Arab during their transfer from Basra to Mosul. Only twenty-six cases out of two hundred and thirty-five arrived at the Louvre in July 1856.

Image Analysis

Archaeological excavations at the museum

The painting by Félix Thomas, exhibited at the Salon of 1863 under the title Visit of the Pasha of Mosul to the excavations of Khorsabad, is above all the work of an architect. Taking up the survey he performed on the job site, Thomas depicts gate number three of the city walls of Sargon II and the androcephalic bulls that stood guard. To exhibit his painting at the Salon, he combines it with an orientalist subject featuring Arab horsemen, who seem to be there only to give the scale of the extraordinary piece of architecture exhumed. The still partially buried door occupies the center of this composition with the very high horizon line. The shadow highlights the exceptionally preserved archivolt, adorned with a band of colored bricks standing out against the white plaster of the walls. This decoration of glazed bricks was unfortunately in the crates that sank in the Tiger.

In 1863, Thomas had left Khorsabad for ten years and the bulls had been kidnapped in 1855. If the one on the left had sunk into the Tigris, the one on the right, the only survivor with a mythological genius, had indeed arrived at the Louvre. It appears in an engraving depicting the large Assyrian hall of the museum in a guide published in 1863. For the sake of symmetry, its counterpart, which disappeared during the shipwreck, has been replaced by a plaster copy. The two bulls are also presented parallel to the wall, in an arrangement that is intended to be more aesthetic than respectful of archaeological reality. The painter's Arab fantasia has given way to visitors in top hats accompanied by women in crinoline, also intended to highlight the monumentality of the remains.


Birth of the world's first Assyrian museum

The first vestiges of Khorsabad, discovered by Paul-Émile Botta, arrived in Paris after a long and perilous journey: embarked on the Tigre in 1844 aboard frail rafts supported by inflated skinskins, the boxes filled with titanic blocks of stone are taken to Basra, where a Royal Navy ship takes them to Le Havre. They finally landed in front of the Louvre in February 1847. With this first shipment, the curator of Louvre antiques, Adrien de Longperrier, was able to open the first Assyrian museum in Europe. When Louis-Philippe inaugurated it with great pomp on the 1ster May 1847, it occupied two rooms in the north wing of the Cour Carrée. Despite the disaster of the shipwreck on the Tigre, what remained of the Place finds was large enough to necessitate the expansion of these first rooms: the collections are then transferred to a neighboring gallery, designed by the neoclassical architect Fontaine and fitted out by Lefuel. , one of the architects of the Napoleon III museum. This presentation was inaugurated in 1857.

If we often associate the beginnings of modern archeology with the first excavations of the sites of Herculaneum (1738) and Pompeii (1748), it was not until the XIXe century that the great campaigns are organized. With the proliferation of discoveries, governments regain control of scholars and scientists, and archeology becomes an instrument of politics. The era saw Germany, Great Britain and France compete as much for scientific advancement as for their influence. It was then that the great archaeological departments of the British Museum and the Louvre were born.

  • archeology
  • East
  • Orientalism
  • Louis Philippe
  • Louvre
  • Museum
  • Assyria


Élisabeth FONTAN (dir.) With the collaboration of Nicole Chevalier, From Khorsabad to Paris, the discovery of the Assyrians, catalog of the exhibition at the Louvre, Department of Oriental Antiquities, Paris, R.M.N., 1994. Jean BOTTERO and Marie-Joseph STEVE, Once upon a time in Mesopotamia, Paris, Gallimard, coll. "Discoveries", 1993.

To cite this article

Béatrice MÉON-VINGTRINIER, "The second French mission in Khorsabad"

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