Media Contact: Curtis Prather
ALEXANDRIA, VA – A 3,000-year-old carving from Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) will go on sale at Christie’s Antiquities Sale in New York October 31. Proceeds from the sale will underwrite Bicentennial initiatives such as the Vocations Scholarship Fund
, making residential seminary education more accessible to candidates who reflect the changing face of the Episcopal Church. Funds will also be used for conservation and display of a remaining pair of carvings which will be the subject of a scholarly symposium
at VTS next spring.
“We are beginning to look toward our bicentennial in 2023,” said the Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D., dean and president. “This sale and the resulting scholarship fund illustrate just two of the ways VTS is changing as we look to the next century of service to the Episcopal Church.”
The carving in question is a seven-foot stone panel from the Northwest palace of the Assyrian ruler Ashurnasirpal II. Known as the Bearded Winged Apkallu, it is one of three low-relief carvings sent to VTS in 1859 by Dr. Henri B. Haskell from an excavation begun by Austen Henry Layard. Carvings from the same excavation are on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the British Museum in London, among others. In 2017 a routine insurance audit revealed the value of the three tablets had more than quadrupled, raising concerns about their unsecured location in the Seminary’s Bishop Payne Library. Insurance premiums for the three tablets jumped to $70,000 per year. After months of study and consultation with students, faculty, and staff, the Board of Trustees determined to sell the largest of the three tablets.
“It was a difficult decision,” says Markham. “These are world-class treasures that have been part of Virginia Seminary’s history for over 150 years. But in the end, the Trustees felt that the cost of maintaining the entire collection would pull resources from our primary mission to educate lay or ordained leaders for the Episcopal Church.”
The Vocations Scholarship Fund, which the sale will underwrite, will support Seminary education for international students, students of color, and second-career students. VTS has a long commitment to graduating students without the burden of educational debt.
VTS will retain a laser reproduction of the auctioned carving for teaching purposes. Two slightly smaller tablets from the excavation will remain at the Seminary and will be the focus of a symposium tentatively titled “Reconstructing the Reliefs from the Temple of Ninurta
,” planned for the spring of 2019. The Rev. Melody Knowles, Ph.D., academic dean and Old Testament professor, says invitations will go out this fall to a slate of international scholars. “We at Virginia Seminary are part of a tradition that values artifacts from the past and continues to interrogate them with new and emerging questions. Our students and faculty flourish in a context where ancient texts and contemporary perspectives continue to spark new analysis.”
The sale of the Bearded Apkallu will also help fund conservation and appropriately secure space on the Virginia Theological Seminary campus for the remaining reliefs without invading funds intended for the Seminary’s daily mission and ministry.