Plaque with a striding sphinx


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On this finely carved shell plaque, a striding sphinx is represented above a plain border. Sphinxes are mythological animals with a lion’s body and the head of a human, or sometimes another type of animal such as a ram, and can be depicted with or without wings. This sphinx has wings and the head of a beardless human, whose hair is shown as a mass of curly locks covering the back of the neck, recalling figures from the monumental stone reliefs that decorated Assyrian palaces. Details such as the individual wing feathers and the textured fur on the legs and belly are incised. The plaque’s original purpose is unknown, but like many pieces of carved shell or ivory from the Assyrian royal buildings at Nimrud it may have been used as a decoration for furniture or luxury objects.

Plaque with a striding sphinx, Shell, Assyrian

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