Furniture plaque carved in relief with a female figure
- ca. 9th–8th century B.C.
- Mesopotamia, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu)
- 4.33 x 2.2 x 0.31 in. (11 x 5.59 x 0.79 cm)
- Credit Line:
- Rogers Fund, 1962
- Accession Number:
This piece was found in a storeroom 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. The fragmentary, rectangular plaque depicts a female figure with her head in profile facing right. She stands wearing a pleated, ankle-length garment that is fringed at the edges. Although her left arm is abraded, a floral stalk can still be seen held against her chest and may have originally extended in front of or over her left shoulder. The upper background behind the figure’s head does not survive. A circular hole drilled through the bottom of the robe suggests that the plaque was originally attached to a frame by means of a dowel and set into a piece of wooden furniture. The reverse has been roughened, probably to help glue join the surface of the plaque to the frame. Certain Egyptian features characteristic of Phoenician ivories, including the pleated garment and long, curly wig, are combined with facial features commonly found on North Syrian ivories such as the hooked nose, large eye, small mouth, full cheek, and receding chin. Because of this mixture of styles, this plaque has been classified as South Syrian, a style that occupies an intermediate place between the two.
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.