Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Plaque: bull-men on the obverse; lion attacking a horned animal on the reverse

Iron Age III
ca. 8th–7th century B.C.
Iran, Luristan, Surkh Dum
1.5 x 3.75 in. (3.81 x 9.53 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1943
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 404
This ivory plaque is decorated with an incised scene on each side. Holes drilled on the upper and lower edges probably allowed it to be mounted in a frame, although it is not known how it was originally displayed so that the images on both sides could be viewed or what the object’s function may have been. A neatly carved guilloche border is preserved at both short edges. On one side, a lion attacks a horned animal which flees to the right; the scene is crudely incised and the animals are rendered as outlines with sections marked by patterning. The other side shows two frontal bull-men standing side by side, each raising an arm to an animal at the outer edge of the scene: a lion at right, and a large animal that may be a bear at right. A hatched border defines the bull-men’s long, flared garments, their beards and hair, and the sections of the animals’ bodies. All have large, staring eyes marked by a circle and dot, except the animal at left, whose face is chipped. The scene may represent an unusual variation on the master of animals motif, in which a frontal figure controls two animals who flank him; here, the bull-men seem to act together as masters of animals. Both motifs—bull-men and masters of animals—are known from Luristan metalwork, and it is likely that the plaque is the product of a local workshop.

In three weeks of excavation at Surkh Dum, Erich Schmidt and the Holmes Expedition to Luristan uncovered a circular mud-brick structure with a platform in the center, perhaps a sanctuary or shrine. The building contained a wealth of objects of bronze, ivory, bone, faience, and ceramic, as well as about two hundred cylinder and stamp seals, most dating from the ninth to the eighth century B.C. Some of the objects, however, were heirlooms of considerably earlier date. In spite of its brevity, the excavation at Surkh Dum is important for having uncovered objects from a settlement site rather than from one of the cemeteries more commonly found in Luristan.
1938, excavated by Erich F. Schmidt, on behalf of the Second Holmes Expedition sponsored by the American Institute for Persian (later Iranian) Art and Archaeology; acquired by the Museum in 1943, purchased from the American Institute for Iranian Art and Archaeology, New York.
Muscarella, Oscar W. 1981. "Surkh Dum at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Journal of Field Archaeology 8, pp. 346-347, no. 25.

Schmidt, Erich F., M. van Loon, H.H. Curvers. 1989. The Holmes Expeditions to Luristan. Chicago: The University of Chicago Oriental Institute Publications, pp. 366-367, p. 567, pls. 224n, 229.
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