Incised furniture plaque with a kneeling bull


Not on view

This trapezoidal plaque was found in a room that has been identified as part of the royal residency 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. Ivories with incised decoration like this one have been attributed to an Assyrian style similar to the large reliefs lining the walls of the Northwest Palace. The kneeling bull depicted on this plaque, with its stylized musculature and elaborately incised anatomy, recalls the animals embroidered on the robes worn by the figures in the palace reliefs and can be compared with depictions of animals in glyptic art and glazed ceramics from the Neo-Assyrian period. Two dowel holes that pierce the plaque were probably used to fasten it to a frame or other backing that does not survive. At Nimrud, Assyrian style ivories have been found in royal areas such as throne rooms and ceremonial or royal residential suites. The limited distribution of Assyrian ivories could suggest that their use and display was highly restricted.

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.

Incised furniture plaque with a kneeling bull, Ivory, Assyrian

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