Plaque fragment


Not on view

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.

This small broken piece of ivory, showing a flower emerging from a volute, was originally part of a plaque. Carved ivory plaques were widely used in the production of elite furniture during the early first millennium B.C. They were often inlaid into a wooden frame using joinery techniques and glue, and could be overlaid with gold foil or inlaid with colored glass or stone pieces to create a dazzling effect of gleaming surfaces and bright colors. This fragment contains thin-walled carved cells, called cloisons, that were filled with colored inlays. One inlay, a petal in the farthest left cloison, is still in place, but has changed from what was probably originally red to a greenish color. Traces of blue and red color that remain in the other three cloisons are left by the material that fixed the inlays in place rather than by the inlays themselves. When the royal buildings at Nimrud were sacked during the fall of Assyria in 614 and 612 B.C., looters stripped the gold inlay from the ivory furniture and left the broken pieces behind. Floral forms such as the blossom and volute on this piece formed the background of many ornately carved inlaid ivories.

Plaque fragment, Ivory, Assyrian

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.