Handle of a flywhisk or fan


Not on view

Both sides of this handle are decorated with two figures kneeling before a stylized tree, an image perhaps related to similar ritual scenes on reliefs from Assyrian palaces. Such Assyrian style ivories are usually carved using an incised technique, but this is a rare example carved in relief. As the figures are beardless, they may be eunuchs or, more likely, women. They are shown plucking what may be pomegranates, a fruit whose many seeds led it to be associated with fertility. Handles in a similar form are shown on the reliefs of Ashurbanipal, an Assyrian king who ruled during the seventh century B.C., with long feathers inserted in the hollow cylinders at the top, suggesting how this handle may have originally looked. Based on the scene depicted on the handle and the location where it was excavated, within the private residential areas of the palace, it has been suggested that the fan was used by Assyrian royal women.

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.

Handle of a flywhisk or fan, Ivory, Assyrian

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