This piece is one of a set of four furniture legs, probably found at the site of a palace at Acemhöyük in central Anatolia, carved in the shape of compact seated sphinxes without wings. They have large eyes with inlaid pupils, only one of which survives intact. Traces of gold foil remain on the hair and headdresses as well as eyes of some examples. The pink staining of this piece indicates that iron oxides are present on the surface, although it is not known whether this was a deliberate decorative treatment, or a result of contact with the soil in which the pieces were buried. Additionally, the overall gray color indicates that the object was exposed to considerable heat, perhaps during the destruction of the palace. Each sphinx wears a wig or hairstyle in which heavy locks of hair ending in large curls, held behind protruding ears, frame the face, resembling images of the Egyptian goddess Hathor. In Egypt, sphinxes with the attributes of Hathor were associated with royal women. It is not known what these images meant in Anatolia, but their location within a palace suggests that they could have had the same function there.
The sphinxes probably belonged to a small piece of furniture that would not have held much weight. Mortises were drilled into the tops of the heads, with additional drilled holes across these mortises that would have held pins to secure tenons. On one side of the head of each sphinx the curls are either omitted or only roughly carved, suggesting this side may not have been visible. This has allowed scholars to reconstruct their original arrangement, in which this piece is positioned at the front left side.
Acquired by the Museum in 1936, gift of Mrs. George D. Pratt, in memory of George D. Pratt.
“Egyptian Style in the Eastern Mediterranean.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, March 2, 1938–March 27, 1938.
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Decamps de Mertzenfeld, Christiane. 1954. Inventaire Commenté des Ivoires Phéniciens. Paris: E. De Boccard, p. 165, pl. CXXVI, fig. 1088b.
Frankfort, Henri. 1954. Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient. New Haven: Yale University Press, pl. 167a.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1972. Guide to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 46, fig. 8.
Barnett, Richard D. 1982. “Ancient Ivories in the Middle East and Adjacent Countries.” Qedem 14, pl. 26d [Mislabeled as 36.161.46].
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Aruz, Joan, and Jean-François de Lapérouse. 2008. In Beyond Babylon, exh. cat. edited by Joan Aruz, Kim Benzel and Jean M. Evans. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 83-85, fig. 30.
Gilibert, Alessandra. 2011. "Die Anatolische Sphinx." In Wege der Sphinx: Monster Zwischen Orient and Okzident, edited by Lorenz Winkler-Horacek. Rahden Westfalen, Germany: Leidorf Verlag, p. 42.
Simpson, Elizabeth. 2013. “An Early Anatolian Ivory Chair: The Pratt Ivories in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” In Amilla: The Quest for Excellence, Studies Presented to Günter Kopcke in Celebration of his 75th Birthday, edited by Robert B. Koehl. Philadelphia: INSTAP Academic Press, pp. 229-238, fig. 16.6-.17