Opening November 8th at The British Museum is I am Ashurbanipal, king of the world, king of Assyria – a BP exhibition about the life of a 7th century BC Assyrian king who, during his reign, was the most powerful person on the planet. At the time, Rome was the size of a small town, while Ashurbanipal’s empire stretched from Cyprus to Iran and was the largest on Earth.
This is the first time the museum has told the story of the Assyrian empire where the focus is on a single person, giving insight to the ruler’s fiery temperament, personality and family history, all of which shaped the way he governed his empire.
Gareth Brereton, the exhibition’s curator, has spent the last two years bringing it all together, borrowing items from museums across Europe with the help of IAG Cargo and the carrier’s Secure product. A number of the sculptures on display were part of the British Museum’s early collection, discovered at the ancient sites of Nimrud and Nineveh – Assyria’s largest city and now the site of Mosul in northern Iraq – back in the 1840s.
“The sculptures had to be lowered by hand, put onto sleds and dragged to the river Tigris where they were put onto a raft and sailed down to Basra. They were then put on a steam ship to Bombay and sailed around the coast of Africa and the east of England, and dragged up the museum steps. At the time, parts of the museum were being built and they hadn’t anticipated having these huge, great sculptures, so they had to revise the museum plans.”
Today, it’s slightly easier to transport artefacts around the world, even if they are enormous sculptures. Chris Stewart is The British Museum’s project coordinator for Temporary Exhibitions, and handles the process of borrowing items and logistical arrangements in the lead-up to an exhibition, as well as the installation, which takes about three weeks.
“It’s a short amount of time to do a large amount of work,” says Stewart. “It’s never a dull day, that requires objects coming from all corners of the world. Every museum, including ours, has its own way of doing things – my job is to guide my colleagues around the world through our process to make sure that the objects are brought here in the best possible condition.”
Moving priceless, ancient artefacts involves trusted fine art freight agents who are able to meet the high standards of packaging, surveillance and care that a museum requires. These agents work with carriers like IAG Cargo to ensure the necessary levels of attention and protection are met.
“When we bring things into countries we ask for specific things, such as sole use, high-value pallets, we need airside assistance. We really do look after these objects every single step of the way, which is why it’s so great to work with IAG Cargo because we know when we bring crates through the airport, we’re bringing them through a secure, well-managed environment,” says Stewart. “We know that the teams that work at IAG Cargo are very good at what they do and we’re able to monitor and manage the risks for it.”
What can you expect from the exhibition?
Expect to learn about Ashurbanipal’s family, his palace in the ancient city of Nineveh, and the artwork that he decorated it with. You’ll also gain insight to the empire that he inherited, his challenges with enemies, the fall of the empire, its rediscovery in the 19th century up to present day and the future of Iraqi heritage. Runs November 9th- February 24th, 2019.