Openwork furniture plaque with a "woman at the window"


Not on view

On this fragmentary plaque, four bands nestled inside one another, preserved on one side, frame the head of a female figure who peers out toward the viewer over a balustrade supported by columns with volute capitals. A number of other furniture inlay plaques with this imagery, a motif known as the "woman at the window," have been found in a storeroom at Fort Shalmaneser, a royal building at Nimrud that was probably used to store tribute and booty collected by the Assyrians while on military campaign. This plaque can be attributed to the Phoenician style due to its openwork carving technique. The hair, bound by a thin fillet with a floral element, is parted in the center and falls in ringlets. The drilled pupils suggest that they were originally enlivened with semiprecious stone or glass inlays. There is no conclusive interpretation of whom these plaques were meant to represent; some scholars associate them with the Levantine goddess Astarte. Several other ivory plaques with this imagery found at Arslan Tash in Syria are also in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection (MMA 57.80.11, 57.80.12, and 57.80.13).

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.

Openwork furniture plaque with a "woman at the window", Ivory, Assyrian

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