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The Northwest Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal II at Nimrud

An Interactive Publication Prototype -- Recent Renderings

page updated December 11, 2019


Learning Sites continues to build an interactive 3D computer model of the Northwest Palace, which began in 1997 with the Great Northern Courtyard and Throne Room suite. Our model has progressed through the ceremonial east wing rooms, and has recently expanded to include the king's personal suite in the southern portion of the complex (here below you can read descriptions of the various phases through which our model has progressed). We use images scanned from photographs and drawings that are then applied to the digitally reconstructed walls to simulate the original positions of the carved bas-reliefs. In some cases we build photomodels of sculpture. Please note that this is an on-going exercise that continually improves and expands and should be acknowledged as such for your research. This project is undertaken by Learning Sites, in collaboration with Assyriologists (formerly headed by the late Samuel M. Paley) and architectural historians, including David Kertai, Richard P. Sobolewski, Julian Reade, John Russell, Alison B. Snyder, and other consultants, as a demonstration of the power of interactive 3D models for understanding complex ancient architectural environments, for gaining new insight into the past, for collocating in one visualization globally dispersed remains that cannot be understood in context any other way, and generally for re-creating the look and feel of the Palace from the point of view of the ancient Assyrians who constructed it in the 9th century BCE.

The rendered views mounted on the accompanying pages come from several different iterations of our model, as further described below (jump to the Index).

NB: These pages are for research and educational purposes only. Data and images are not to be copied, retransmitted, or altered in any way without written permission from Learning Sites, Inc., the Paley family, Richard P. Sobolewski, R.A., Warsaw, Poland, and Alison B. Snyder, R.A., University of Oregon. Send comments to:

 Version 13 (2019)

The images from Version 13 mark a significant departure in our conception of the Northwest Palace. Many changes in the model have taken place over the five years since the last major reconstruction update. The most significant change is the dramatically re-imagined color decoration of the major rooms of the Palace (based on detailed evaluation of excavation notebooks, field reports, and pigment analyses--all under the watchful guidance of Julian Reade), especially in the throne room (Room B). Further improvements and expansions to the Palace model include new decorative features in Room F, tented shades in Courtyard Y, fully decorated and modeled Room S (the king's private reception room of his personal suite), the addition of a banquet scene to Room S, and for the very first time, the addition of an Assyrian queen to a palace environment. For additional background on the new colorization schemes, see our detailed discussion.

A video based on the Version 13 model of the Palace was provided to the Virginia Theological Seminary (Alexandria, Virginia) to show the locational context of a relief once in their collection.

 Version 12 (2014)

The images marked Version 12 are extracted from the Palace model then updated for a video created by Learning Sites for an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. This version had the following additions and changes: updated ceiling structure in the Throne Room, updated shields and bosses on the walls, updated characters, updated exterior wall texturing, and newly added lamassu and architecture for Courtyard Y. In addition, a dramatically new conjectural view of the full extent of the Palace, which is much more extensive than previously imagined, was built. This enhanced interpretation of the Palace model was created as part of Learning Sites digital publication of the Polish excavations of the Central Palace Area, Nimrud (which flanks the Northwest Palace at the southeast).

 Version 11 (2011)

The images marked Version 11 show the following additions: towers flanking the large central entry from the Great Northern Courtyard into the Throne Room (based on depictions of such towers on Assyrian reliefs); the Throne Room walls above reliefs B-13 (opposite the central entrance to the room) and B-23 (behind the throne) have arches conforming to designs on the reliefs (and thus mirror the view seen when looking from the throne area across the room into Room C); furniture (based on depictions of benches, tables, tripods, and cauldrons on various reliefs at this and other Assyrian palaces, notably, Khorsabad) has been modeled and distributed to the various rooms; and a group of foreign visitors gathers in the courtyard awaiting their audience with the king (based on reliefs in the Great Northern Courtyard).

For Version 11, a full virtual reality version of the Palace was programmed and includes a virtual tourguide, who, upon request, will lead viewers to points of interest in and around the Palace. En route, the guide explains what is passing by. Once at a destination, users can access context-specific descriptions, photos, drawings, and 3D models (see the Great Northern Courtyard renders in the index below for screen grabs from the immersive experience). [NB 2019: the original virtual reality model was coded in VRML, which is no longer viewable in Web browsers; Learning Sites is busy reprogramming the world in HTML5/WebGL.]

Ten years after our initial installation at the Williams College Museum of Art (Williamstown MA), Learning Sites provided them with both an animated flythrough and a VR module based on the Version 11 model for their new show called A Collection of Histories. The show uses the Williams College Museum of Art’s two Assyrian reliefs as case studies for how works of art accumulate collections of histories over time. Their reliefs, the first to come to America from ancient Assyria, arrived on the Williams College campus in 1851. By unfolding the layers of history, we can examine the significance of context in shaping meaning and confront an essential question: Who owns the past? This exhibition is part of the museum’s innovative reinstallation project entitled Reflections on a Museum. All of the exhibitions in this project take “the museum” as their subject, exploring everything from the role of a curator to what makes something a work of art.

 Version 10 (2006)

The images marked Version 10 are renderings from an iteration of the Palace model with the following additions: Assyrian chariots have been added to the Great Northern Courtyard along with standards representing two different regiments; a rolling brazier has been added to the Throne Room (set in grooves carved into the paving stones in front of the throne); some of the ceremonial east wing rooms (Rooms G, H, and L) have been modeled with their reliefs added.

 Version 9 (March 2001)

The images marked Version 9 (V through Z, in the older number system) are renderings from our model that added the following material: the lamassu have been modeled; Room F (adjacent to the Throne Room) has been completed; huge wooden and bronze doors have been added (we have calculated that the each door leaf visible in Rendering V weighed nearly 5,000 pounds); and 3D characters have been added to enliven the scenes. We created a 3-minute flythrough of the Palace from this version for an exhibit celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Williams College Museum of Art (Williamstown MA), during which the museum highlighted their two bas-reliefs from the Palace.

The renderings from Version 9a (marked as AA, AB, AC) show a reworked model of the king (based on an original computer model created by Young-Seok Kim, then a graduate student in the Virtual Reality Lab, University at Buffalo, SUNY). We were then in the process of researching ancient textile patterns and colors, so the garments depicted here are still preliminary.

 Version 8 (July 1998)

The renderings from Version 8 (marked as Q, R, S, and U) derive from the Palace model expanded at that point to include the Throne Room (B) and the anteroom (C) and prepared for demonstration at the XLVe Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Harvard University (July 5-8, 1998). Dramatic strides had been made in visualizing the original appearance of the Palace, based on evidence from Layard's publications, actual bits of colored plaster from the discovered by the British and Iraqi excavations, some documented in the records of the Polish excavation teams in the 1970s, and decorative elements from Fort Shalmaneser (at Nimrud) and elsewhere. Rendering U was created for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for use in their newly designed Assyrian gallery, the new ceiling of which was based on our computer model.

Also added for Version 8 were several text pages providing background narrative about the excavation of the Palace, the subsequent distribution of the reliefs, our rationale for the details of the reconstruction, and descriptions of the Great Northern Courtyard and Throne Room. Many other features of the virtual reality publication prototype were included for the conference presentation, including: links between each relief and an index of visual and textual information about that relief, links to a preliminary drawing and photo archive about the Palace, and a simple virtual guide whose hand-held lamp lit the Throne Room reliefs as he walked through the space--these elements are not currently available in the online material.

 Versions 7 (February 1998)

The primary difference between images marked Version 7 and 7a (available on the Archives page) and earlier views is the coloration of the reliefs. The new coloration has been matched to photographs of the so-called Canford reliefs published in Christie's of London auction catalogue for the July 6, 1994 sale.

 Version 6 (January 1998)

The renderings marked Version 6 (available on the Archives page) include the following new elements: coloration and texturing added to all the bas-reliefs (including the lamassu) to simulate carved limestone, and a decorative frieze band added above the reliefs, the specific form of which has yet to be decided. Coloration was based on Samuel Paley's slides, two of which can be viewed here for comparison.

 Version 5 (December 1997)

The images marked Version 5 (available on the Archives page) included the following new elements: improved wall and paving textures, coloration added to some reliefs to simulate carved limestone, some modeling added to the lamassu around Entry D (these had been incomplete at this point), and added drawings mapped onto other courtyard walls.

 Version 3 (November 1997)

The images marked Version 3 (available on the Archives page) have four repeating relief images on the right-hand (West) wall of the courtyard. These images were generated only as a test of hues for the relief panels (they were not meant to be interpreted as part of the final model).

 Index to the Renderings

Great Northern Courtyard
Throne Room (B)
Room C
Room F
Room G
Room H
Room L
Room S
Courtyard Y