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 a so-called Master of Animals scene in which a figure stands bewteen two confronted animals. A hero with outstretched arms, wearing a pointed horned helmet with plumed crest and a short kilt, is flanked by two lions. Two facing birds flank the hero’s head. A type of hybrid creature called a Minoan Genius holds a vessel and stands behind the left lion, above which is a griffin shown with legs extended in a flying gallop. A number of objects are arranged in the empty spaces of the pictorial field, including two dots in circles, a sun disc in a crescent, a rosette, an animal head, and a human head.
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.
"Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 17, 2008–March 15, 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.
Aruz, Joan. 2008. “Cylinder Seal and Modern Impression: Master of Animals.” In Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C., exh. cat. edited by Joan Aruz, Kim Benzel, and Jean M. Evans. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 253, p. 398.
Aruz, Joan. 2008. Marks of Distinction: Seals and Cultural Exchange Between the Aegean and the Orient (ca. 2600-1360 B.C.). Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, pp. 207, 313, no. 245, fig. 408.