Furniture or cosmetic box plaque carved in the round with striding bull
Not on view
This striding bull was found with four similar examples in a private house abutting the town wall at Nimrud, where it was probably taken as salvage from a palace complex when they were sacked during final defeat of Assyria at the end of the seventh century B.C. Carved in the round, this piece would have originally been attached to a circular base, perhaps in line with other striding bulls, and secured to an upper, circular frame by the tenon preserved on the bull’s upper back. The complete element would have decorated a pyxis, a small, circular box for cosmetics, or the legs of a table or bed. The nose is detailed with cross-hatching, the eyebrows and mane are accentuated with incision, and the dewlaps and ribs are softly modeled. The horns, lower legs, and most of the tail do not survive. This plaque exhibits a combination of features typically found on Phoenician style ivories, including the skillful, openwork carving technique and deeply drilled eye that was originally enlivened with a colored glass or semiprecious stone inlay, and the large, heavy body of a bull characteristic of North Syrian ivories. Therefore, it has been classified as South Syrian, a style that occupies an intermediate position between the two.
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.