Panel with a youth grasping a tree; winged sun disc above


Not on view

This ivory panel was found in a storage room in Fort Shalmaneser, a royal building at Nimrud that was used to store booty and tribute collected by the Assyrians while on military campaign. Like many other panels from the same storage room, it was part of a chair or couch back or the headboard of a bed. Twenty pieces of furniture were discovered stacked in orderly rows in this room, where they had been stored before the destruction of the Assyrian palaces in 612 B.C.

Shown here is a beardless male figure with a mass of curled hair, probably a youth. He wears a robe with fringed hem that is belted at the waist, and strides forward with both arms extended to grasp the tendrils of a plant. With his left hand, he raises a drooping stalk of the plant toward a winged sun disk with a pair of hanging volute forms. Below is a row of alternating lotus blossoms and buds, a common decorative motif in ancient Near Eastern art. The figure’s association with thriving vegetation and with the sun suggests concepts of abundance and fruitfulness connected with the agricultural cycle. Like the other panels from this storage room, this piece is classified as North Syrian in style because of its carving technique; the dynamic composition, in which the image fills the entire frame; and the figure’s characteristic facial features, including large eyes and nose, small mouth, full cheeks, and receding chin.

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.

Panel with a youth grasping a tree; winged sun disc above, Ivory, Assyrian

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