Pomegranate carved in the round
Not on view
This small ivory pomegranate is carved in the round, with a pointed calyx, the floral element that protects the developing flower at top, and a thin stem projecting from the bottom. It was found in a well in the Northwest Palace of Ashurnasirpal II, where it was probably thrown when the palace was sacked, perhaps during the final defeat of Assyria at the end of the seventh century B.C. Its warm, reddish color, although appropriate for a pomegranate, is actually a stain on the surface of the ivory from long exposure to well water or sludge. The horizontal perforation where the stalk meets the skin suggests that this piece was sewn onto a garment or suspended from a diadem. Symbols of fertility because of their many seeds, pomegranates were favored as decoration on the clothes and jewelry of royal Assyrian women. Pomegranate beads are depicted strung onto necklaces and embroidered on the robes and crowns worn by the figures in the reliefs lining the walls of the Northwest Palace. They are also shown hanging from the diadems worn by women in several carved ivories from Arslan Tash and Nimrud in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection (MMA 54.117.8, 57.80.11, and 57.80.12).
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.