Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Furniture plaque carved in relief with a striding, falcon-headed winged sphinx supported by two kneeling figures

ca. 9th–8th century B.C.
Mesopotamia, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu)
5.91 x 2.32 x 0.39 in. (15.01 x 5.89 x 0.99 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1964
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 406
This rectangular plaque is carved in high relief and 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. Two tenons, preserved above the upper and lower edges, indicate that this piece may have been fitted into a frame, likely as part of a piece of furniture. Two West Semitic letters are inscribed into the ivory: Resh on the obverse of the upper tenon and Zayin on the lower reverse of the plaque. These letters, known as fitter’s marks, would have served as guides to aid the craftsperson in the piece-by-piece assembly of the original piece of furniture to which this plaque originally belonged. This plaque includes Egyptian elements typically found on Phoenician style ivories, such as the chevron-patterned apron and the pschent crown (the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt) worn by the sphinx, and the short wigs, wesekh broad collars, and kilts worn by the kneeling figures, although all three have facial features characteristic of North Syrian style ivories: full cheeks, large eyes, beaked noses, and receding chins. Because of this combination of features, it has been classified as a South Syrian style piece.

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.
1963, 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 1964, as a result of its financial contribution to the excavations.
Herrmann, Georgina and Stuart Laidlaw. 2013. Ivories from Rooms SW11/12 and T10 Fort Shalmaneser, Ivories from Nimrud (1949-1963), Fasc. VII. London: The British School of Archaeology in Iraq, no. 262, p. 171, pl. 59.
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