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.
This seal can be dated on stylistic grounds to the late fourteenth to thirteenth century B.C., a period of intense interaction between the eastern Mediterranean world and the Near East. It was made when there was a growing interest in portraying animals in a modeled style, in the treatment of figures in space, and in depictions of movement--all features associated with Western stimuli. The winged horse has talons usually seen on the lion-griffin, cervine horns, and a dragon-shaped phallus. The inscription names a court cupbearer.
Acquired by Dikran G. Kelekian between 1893-1910; Kelekian collection (until 1999); acquired by the Museum in 1999, gift of Nanette B. Kelekian, New York.
"The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2000. "Departmental Accessions: Ancient Near East." Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, No. 130 (Jul. 1,1999 - Jun. 30, 2000), p. 9.
Aruz, Joan. 2000. "Recent Acquisitions: A Selection 1999-2000," Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 58(2), Fall 2000, p. 10.
Bahrani, Zainab. 2014. The Infinite Image: Art, Time and the Aesthetic Dimension in Antiquity. London: Reaktion, p. 130.