Cylinder seal and modern impression: weather gods framing heraldic griffins at tree below winged sun disc and ibexes
ca. 1720–1650 B.C.
1 x 0.38 in. (2.54 x 0.97 cm)
Gift of Martin and Sarah Cherkasky, 1989
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 402
Although engraved stones had been used as early as the seventh millennium B.C. to stamp impressions in clay, the invention in the fourth millennium B.C. of carved cylinders that could be rolled over clay allowed the development of more complex seal designs. These cylinder seals, first used in Mesopotamia, served as a mark of ownership or identification. Seals were either impressed on lumps of clay that were used to close jars, doors, and baskets, or they were rolled onto clay tablets that recorded information about commercial or legal transactions. The seals were often made of precious stones. Protective properties may have been ascribed to both the material itself and the carved designs. Seals are important to the study of ancient Near Eastern art because many examples survive from every period and can, therefore, help to define chronological phases. Often preserving imagery no longer extant in any other medium, they serve as a visual chronicle of style and iconography.
The modern impression of the seal is shown so that the entire design can be seen. This seal shows two weather deities in kilts and horned plumed helmets holding branched lightning standards on either side of a pair of heraldic griffins. The heads of the griffins overlap on a central tree flanked by two recumbent ibexes. A winged sun disk hovers above the tree. At the top and bottom of the pictorial field is a horizontal guilloche band.
From 1986, on loan to the Museum by Martin and Sarah Cherkasky, New York (L.1986.47.22); acquired by the Museum in 1989, gift of Martin and Sarah Cherkasky.
Pittman, Holly, in collaboration with Joan Aruz. 1987. Ancient Art in Miniature: Near Eastern Seals from the Collection of Martin and Sarah Cherkasky. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 54, p. 67.
Annual Report of the Trustees of The Metropolitan Museum of Art 120 (July 1, 1989 - June 30, 1990), p. 12.
Aruz, Joan. 1995. "Syrian Seals and the Evidence of Cultural Interaction." In Sceaux Minoens et Mycéniens. Corpus der Minoischen und Mykenischen Siegel 5. Berlin: Gebr. Mann, pp. 18-19, fig. 16a.