Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Incised horse frontlet carved into the shape of a flowering, volute palmette tree

ca. 9th–8th century B.C.
Mesopotamia, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu)
4.21 x 2.2 x 2.09 in. (10.69 x 5.59 x 5.31 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1960
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 406
This ivory plaque is carved into the form of a flowering, voluted palmette emerging from a wide stalk. The crowning floral ornamentation includes volutes, leaves, and a central, oval bud, all outlined with incision. The stalk is ornamented with two blank bands just below the floral capital, with an additional, fringed band bordering the lower edge. The six holes drilled into the lower edge of this piece and suggest that it was fastened to another material, perhaps a textile or leather backing that has not survived. Originally, this piece was probably used as a frontlet, an equestrian bridle-harness ornament which adorned a horse’s forehead. Over two hundred ivory and gypsum alabaster equestrian bridle-harness ornaments have been found at Nimrud. The majority, including this frontlet, were found in a large storeroom (Room SW 37) at Fort Shalmaneser, a royal building at Nimrud that was probably used to store tribute and booty collected by the Assyrians while on military campaign. Although horses wearing equestrian bridle-harness ornaments are shown in Neo-Assyrian palace reliefs, it is not possible to know whether the ornaments in the reliefs were meant to represent work in ivory or in more durable materials such as bronze or iron. Ivory pieces like this one may have been used ceremonially, as votive dedications, or as processional regalia, rather than in battle.

Built by the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II, the palaces and storerooms of Nimrud housed thousands of pieces of carved ivory. Most of the ivories served as furniture inlays or small precious objects such as boxes. While some of them were carved in the same style as the large Assyrian reliefs lining the walls of the Northwest Palace, the majority of the ivories display images and styles related to the arts of North Syria and the Phoenician city-states. Phoenician style ivories are distinguished by their use of imagery related to Egyptian art, such as sphinxes and figures wearing pharaonic crowns, and the use of elaborate carving techniques such as openwork and colored glass inlay. North Syrian style ivories tend to depict stockier figures in more dynamic compositions, carved as solid plaques with fewer added decorative elements. However, some pieces do not fit easily into any of these three styles. Most of the ivories were probably collected by the Assyrian kings as tribute from vassal states, and as booty from conquered enemies, while some may have been manufactured in workshops at Nimrud. The ivory tusks that provided the raw material for these objects were almost certainly from African elephants, imported from lands south of Egypt, although elephants did inhabit several river valleys in Syria until they were hunted to extinction by the end of the eighth century B.C.
1960, excavated by Max Mallowan, on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq; ceded in the division of finds to the British School of Archaeology in Iraq; acquired by the Museum in 1960, as a result of its financial contribution to the excavations.
Mallowan, Max E.L. 1966. Nimrud and its Remains II. London: Collins, p. 591, fig. 573.

Orchard, J.J. 1967. Equestrian Bridle-Harness Ornaments: Catalogue & Plates. London: British School of Archaeology, p. 33, no. 161, pl. XXXIV.
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