A good story lurks behind the odyssey of a splendid collection of Assyrian art, but art historian Russell (Sennacherib's Palace: Without Rival at Nineveh), does not tell it. Roughly half the book deals with the activities of Lady Charlotte Guest, the wealthy Victorian who built the neo-Gothic structure known as the Nineveh Porch in Dorsetshire to house treasures from the extinct city of Nineveh in what is now northern Iraq. Here, Russell succeeds in setting the structure within the lively context of England's mid 19th-century Ninevite revival that followed the discovery--and importation--of important artifacts. Once the treasures leave Dorsetshire, though, the narrative splinters. Tacked onto Russell's account of the sculptures' travails until their current installation in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art is a chapter written by scholar Judith McKenzie that chronicles the discovery (and Russell's part in it) of another slab in Dorsetshire and a second on sale for $11.9 million in 1994. While his research into previously unpublished materials is welcome, the author never offers a simple formal analysis of Assyrian art nor does he cite its contributions, if any, to the ongoing history of art. Russell's earlier book possessed focus and a smooth writing style--the reliefs and colossi that were once the toast of Dorsetshire deserve no less. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/26/1997 Release date: 05/01/1997 Genre: Nonfiction
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