Plaque with tribute bearers


Not on view

This strip of ivory was probably blackened through exposure to fire when the palace complexes at Nimrud were sacked during the final defeat of Assyria at the end of the seventh century B.C. It depicts four bearded figures in procession to the left, dressed in elaborate fringed garments and wearing rounded caps. They carry offerings held at chest height before them, presumably to the Assyrian king and court. The figure farthest to the left has been cut off and the offering is not preserved; behind him, a figure holds a tray with a pair of heavy earrings, similar to ones represented on Assyrian reliefs (see 33.16.2 in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum); behind him, another carries a tray with small round objects; the last figure raises a flared cup. Carved ivory pieces such as this were widely used in the production of elite furniture during the early first millennium B.C., and were often inlaid into a wooden frame using joinery techniques and glue. Ivories carved in this style, in which scenes similar to those depicted in the stone reliefs decorating the walls of the Assyrian palaces are represented using an incised technique, are thought to have been made in Assyrian workshops for the use of the royal court. This piece was found together with other carved ivory fragments in the same style in the throne room of the Nabu Temple 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.

Plaque with tribute bearers, Ivory, Assyrian

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