Lamassu from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II

Since 2004, Factum Arte and Factum Foundation have been working on a project to send facsimiles of two lamassu (3,50 x 3,71 m) to Mosul, Iraq. The colossal statues were excavated in the mid-19th century on the site of ancient Nimrud, a few miles from modern Mosul, but they were shipped to London in 1852 and are now housed in the galleries of the British Museum. Although the lamassu were scanned at the British Museum in 2004, it was not until autumn 2019 that the facsimiles finally made the journey from Factum’s Madrid workshops to Iraq, where they were installed at the entrance to the student centre at the University of Mosul.

From Nimrud to Bloomsbury

Lamassu are Assyrian protective deities whose hybrid bodies are part human, part bull or lion, and part bird. Mentioned in the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh, they were often incorporated into monumental entrance architecture, and the two lamassu now in the British Museum originally flanked the doorway to the throne room of Ashurnasirpal II, king of Assyria from 883 to 859 BCE, in the northwest palace of his capital city at Nimrud.

Nimrud and the nearby city of Nineveh, which are both located a few kilometres away from modern Mosul, were excavated in the 1840s and 1850s, and the main finds were removed from the region. The lead excavators were Austen Henry Layard, a young British archaeologist and imperial agent, and Hormuzd Rassam, the first acknowledged Assyriologist from the Ottoman Empire. Layard’s initial financing came from Stratford Canning, the British ambassador to Constantinople, but following the discovery of the spectacular lamassu statues and widespread interest in the finds from the general public, the British Museum began to provide funding for the excavations, and for shipping the finds from Basra to London.

An illustrated London newspaper from 1852 shows the arrival of the lamassu at the British Museum, where they caused a sensation: in 1853 The Times reported that ‘The researches of Mr Layard have not only rendered Assyria an object of interest to professed antiquaries, but have actually brought it into fashion… Everyone knows the form of an Assyrian monarch’s umbrella, and the fashion of the Royal crown of Nineveh is as familiar as the pattern of the last new Parisian bonnet.’

Frederick Charles Cooper. Drawing showing the winged bulls found by Layard at Nimrud. Watercolour on paper, mid 19th century.

The arrival of the Assyrian sculptures at the British Museum, The Illustrated London News, 28 February 1852.

Recording and re-materialising

In 2004, Factum Arte (before the creation of Factum Foundation in 2009) recorded the original statues at the British Museum using a high-resolution NUB3D scanner. Multiple tests were also carried out to assess the precise colour and texture of the lamassu, allowing for the creation of a suitable material – stucco marble – for the making of the facsimiles.

Scanning the lamassu at the British Museum © Factum Arte

Alongside the lamassu, other reliefs from the palaces at Nimrud and Nineveh were also scanned, not only in the British Museum but also in the Pergamon Museum, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, the Sackler Museum at Harvard University and the Princeton University Art Museum. These include numerous large-scale low-relief narrative scenes and even one panel designed to resemble a carpet or wall hanging. Further fragments in Iraq still remain to be recorded.

The scanned data was then processed and prepared for one of the largest high-resolution routing projects ever undertaken for conservation purposes. The data was routed in sections in high-density polyurethane, and after the different parts had been put together to verify the overall fit, silicone moulds were made of each section and the routed sculptures were cast in stucco marble. A final coat of wax completed the imitation of the original gypsum surface, bringing the colossal winged lions back to life in Factum Arte’s Madrid studios.

Prototype of the winged lions

Head of a winged lion routed on high density polyurethane, which was coated with silicone to make the mould

 Various layers of silicone were applied

The head was covered with stucco, a fiberglass jacket ensures the stability of the mould

Silicone mould of a lamassu head

Applying a second layer of silicone

A fiberglass jacket supports the mould

Silicone with a fiberglass jacket

An interior metal structure supports each section

The facsimiles were assembled at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden for their exhibition 'Nineveh'

 Finalising the details

Lamassu facsimiles created for the exhibition 'Nineveh' at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

The facsimiles installed in the exhibition 'Nineveh' at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

The facsimile installed in the exhibition 'Nineveh'  at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

The facsimile installed for the exhibition 'Nineveh'  at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

The Lamassu Team

From Madrid to Mosul – The donation of the exact facsimiles to the University of Mosul

In early 2014, Factum Foundation and the British Museum donated plaster casts of the relief panels now in the British Museum for exhibition at the Ashurbanipal Library, an ambitious new centre located next to the archaeology department of Mosul University which aims to provide a hub for the study of Iraqi history and monuments. The building is named for Ashurbanipal, a later ruler of Assyria (668-c. 630 BCE), in whose capital at Nineveh (80km upriver from Nimrud) over 30,000 cuneiform tablets and fragments were found by Layard and Rassam, and was intended to contain a museum, research centre, and several rooms for national and international symposia. Since 2002, the British Museum’s Ashurbanipal Library Project has worked closely with this institution, spearheading a major effort to assemble, digitise, and translate the known texts from Nineveh, on subjects ranging from divination to administration to literature. Tragically, however, the Ashurbanipal Library suffered heavily during the occupation of Mosul by Islamic State – a disaster which resulted in the devastation of much of the city as well as the site of Nimrud itself, and as of late 2019 in the displacement of over 300,000 residents. It is hoped that work on this vital centre for Iraqi heritage will be part of the rebuilding of the city in the years ahead.

In 2017, permission was given to make a new copy of the two lamassu, this time for the exhibition ‘Nineveh’ at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden. The facsimiles were made on the understanding that after the exhibition they would be transported to Mosul as a gift to the people of Iraq, and in September 2019 the Spanish Ministry of Defense generously flew the vast statues to Baghdad. They were unveiled at the University of Mosul in October 2019, where they were installed at the entrance to the university library.

This is a project which would not have been possible without the collaboration and financial and practical support of the British Museum in London, Mosul University, the Rijksmuseum Van Oudheden, the Spanish Ministry of Defense and the Iraqi Government. All parties hope that the installation of the facsimiles will be seen as a gesture of solidarity and a sign of hope for the role that technology and cultural heritage can play in the reconstruction of the Republic of Iraq.

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules used by the Spanish Air Force to fly the lamassu to Iraq

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules used by the Spanish Air Force to fly the lamassu to Iraq

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules used by the Spanish Air Force to fly the lamassu to Iraq

The pieces arriving in Baghdad in September 2019

One of the two facsimiles before the unveiling at the University of Mosul on 24th October © Adam Lowe for Factum Foundation

During the unveiling of the lamassu © Luke Tchalenko for Factum Foundation

A flamenco concert was organised by the Spanish Ambassador in Iraq, Juan José Escobar Stemmann for the unveiling of the lamassu © Luke Tchalenko for Factum Foundation

One of the two lamassu standing on either side of the entrance to the student centre © Luke Tchalenko for Factum Foundation

Sharing recording skills with Iraqi archaeologists

In addition to sending the two lamassu to Mosul, the Factum/Frontline initiative will also train local archaeologists in photogrammetry for heritage recording, providing them with the skills to record their own material culture. Luke Tchalenko has been trained as the first photojournalist able to offer such teaching, while remote support will be provided by Factum’s team in Madrid.


Great thanks are due to Ali Aljuboori from the University of Mosul, Jonathan Tubb and Hartwig Fischer from the British Museum, the Spanish Ambassador to Iraq Juan José Escobar Stemmann, the Spanish Ministry of Defense, the Iraqi Government and the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden.
The Factum Arte and Factum Foundation Team included Adam Lowe, Nicolas Béliard, José Menéndez Rodríguez, Luke Tchalenko, Natalia Pérez Buesa, Pepe Gómez-Acebo Botín, Francisco Regalado, Charlie Westgarth, Iván Allende Martín, Miguel Hernando Sánchez, Óscar Fernández Rodríguez, Francesco Cigognetti, Sebastián Beyro, Carolina Ruiz and Ángel Jorquera Luna