Female head

Assyrian

Not on view

This carved head 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. Originally, this piece may have been part of a composite statuette made of various materials and overlaid with gold foil. The surface is heavily worn and the ivory has split vertically down the face. The large eye sockets were intended to hold colored inlays, as were the rectangular cavities in the wig, although these no longer survive. Traces of a choker, a short necklace worn by women in ancient Near Eastern art, can be seen carved in relief on the neck. The figure’s beardlessness and the choker suggest this is a female depiction, although it is not clear whether a woman or a deity is represented.

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.

Female head, Ivory, Assyrian

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