Incised furniture plaque with two figures in two registers


Not on view

This fragmentary rectangular panel was found in a room that has been identified as the principal suite 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. Two fragmentary dowel holes that pierce this piece at its upper and lower edges were probably used to fasten it to a frame or other backing that does not survive, likely as part of a piece of furniture. An ornate border with a guilloche band and a frieze of pomegranates alternating with buds divides the plaque into two registers. Above, the lower legs and sandal-clad feet of a figure wearing a fringed robe embroidered with zig-zags and dots can be seen. Below, a clean-shaven figure stands in profile with his hands clasped, wearing a shawl and a sleeved robe embroidered with a rosette and guilloche pattern. Ivories with incised decoration like this one, bearing images similar to those on the large reliefs lining the walls of the Northwest Palace, have been attributed to an Assyrian style. Certain types of dress and jewelry, including the sandals and fringed robe worn by the figure in the upper register, and the earring, rosette bracelet, and arm band worn by the figure in the lower register, are also worn by figures in the palace reliefs. Bracelets and earrings similar to the ones worn by the figure in the lower register of this plaque, made of gold and inlaid with semiprecious stones, were found in the Queens’ tombs at Nimrud. In Assyrian art, both male and female figures are represented wearing jewelry, and the figure in the lower register of this plaque may in fact be a eunuch. Assyrian style ivories have been found in royal areas such as throne rooms and ceremonial or royal residential suites at Nimrud. 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 two figures in two registers, Ivory, Assyrian

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