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  • Writer's pictureKitty

I am Ashurbanipal, King of the World, King of Assyria, the British Museum exhibition that's lit.

We've all seen the Assyrian wall panels on the lower floor of the British Museum, while bustling past on the way to something else. And if we're honest, they are a little inaccessible to anybody without at least one undergraduate year in Ancient Near Eastern Studies. As well as knowledge of the history, you need to know where to start reading, and you probably need a bit of help identifying key players and events. And often the lighting just isn't doing much to assist. But now, after seeing how much lighting design can achieve at the BP exhibition I Am Ashurbanipal, I don't think we can go back to the old way of display. These are very welcome advances and they need to stay. Please.

Lit to their advantage, depicted events and people are thrown into sharp relief (sorry).

That's not all, however. It gets better! Later in the show, small sections of huge busy wall reliefs are sequentially outlined with projected white light, while captions explain the action in a constantly moving display. Atmospheric ancient music accompanies. Suddenly the story of the conquest of the Elamites goes from something lost in translation to a ripping yarn. Hurrah for this technology!

(Photographs don't do it justice, but you get the idea.)

And if that wasn't great enough, look how light and colour bring these reliefs to life with incredible saturation.

And this beautiful palace garden in Nineveh, before and after the treatment.

The water slowly fills the aqueducts and the garden greens in front of your eyes...

I Am Ashurbanipal closes in a few days and doesn't appear to be travelling. It is to be hoped that this fabulous new method of illumination will become part of static displays, at the British Museum and other collections. This picture researcher also hopes to see quality photography available for licensing soon at

Photos © Kitty Bocking.

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