In August of 1847, the British Museum mounted the first major display of Assyrian antiquities in England. For a year, the public had pored over sketches from Austen Henry Layard’s Mesopotamian excavations in the Illustrated London News. Now, it was possible to inspect the impassive, chiseled faces of the Assyrian kings during a comfortable excursion to the London museum. Victorian visitors could sate their curiosity at the knees—literally—of colossal human-headed bulls torn from the great palaces of Nimrud and Nineveh.
The exhibition was a phenomenal success. Samuel Birch, a British Museum officer and later the first president of the Society of Biblical Archaeology (no relation of the Biblical Archaeology Society, the American publisher of this magazine), wrote Layard in 1849: “All the world is mad to see the monuments—and the cry is ‘the bulls—the bulls.’”