Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Head of a female figure

ca. 8th century B.C.
Mesopotamia, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu)
H. 1 5/8 x W. 1 7/16 in. (4.2 x 3.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1954
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 404
Carved in the round, this female head was found in the Burnt Palace at Nimrud and was blackened through exposure to fire during the final defeat of Assyria at the end of the seventh century B.C. Originally, it may have been part of a composite statuette made of various materials and overlaid with gold. The fleshy cheeks, full lips, and small, receding chin are combined with stylized features such as the eyebrows and eyes, all characteristic of Syrian style ivories. The pupils are drilled to receive inlays in colored glass or semiprecious stones. The hair, tucked behind the ears, falls in braids. Like other carved ivory female figures from the Neo-Assyrian period in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection (MMA 57.80.11, 57.80.12, 57.80.13, and 61.197.5), this figure is richly adorned with jewelry, including hoop earrings with pendants, and a woven diadem, studded with rosettes and a rectangular forehead ornament with pendant pomegranates. A diadem closely resembling the one depicted here, made of gold and inlaid with lapis lazuli and colored stones, was found in the grave of a royal woman at Nimrud.

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.
1952, excavated by Max Mallowan, on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq; ceded in the division of finds to the British School of Archaeology in Iraq; acquired by the Museum in 1954, as a result of its financial contribution to the excavations.

“Archaeology: Exploring the Past,” The Junior Museum of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, September 22, 1962–June 30, 1966.

Mallowan, Max E.L. 1952. "Ivories of Unsurpassed Magnificence - The Finest and Largest from the ancient Near East Discovered in this Season's Excavation at Nimrud," Illustrated London News, Aug. 16, 1952, p. 255, fig. 8, 9.

Lines, Joan. 1955. "The Ivories from Nimrud." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 13, pp. 233-236.

Mallowan, Max E.L. 1966. Nimrud and its Remains I. London: Collins, pp. 211, 255, fig. 148, 149.

Maxwell-Hyslop, K.R. 1971. Western Asiatic Jewellery, c. 3000-612B.C. London: Meuthen Young Books, pl. 234a, b, p. 254.

Morris, Edwin T. 1999. Scents of Time: Perfume from Ancient Egypt to the 21st Century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 16-17.

Giovino, Mariana. 2007. The Assyrian Sacred Tree. A History of Interpretations. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 230, Fribourg, fig. 60.

Gansell, Amy R. 2008. "Women of Ivory as Embodiments of Ideal Feminity Beauty in the Ancient Near East during the First Millenium BCE." PhD diss., Harvard, Cambridge, Mass., pp. 44, 56-57, 65, 91, 113, 129, 144, 149, 156-157, 161, fig. 2.24.

Rakic, Yelena ed. 2010. Discovering the Art of the Ancient Near East: Archaeological Excavations Supported by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1931–2010. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 68 (1), Summer 2010, p. 20.

Gansell, Amy Rebecca. 2016. “Imperial Fashion Networks: Royal Assyrian, Near Eastern, Intercultural, and Composite Style Adornment from the Neo-Assyrian Royal Women’s Tombs at Nimrud.” In Assyria to Iberia: Art and Culture in the Iron Age, edited by Joan Aruz and Michael Seymour. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 58, fig. 5.
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