Champlevé furniture or cosmetic box plaque with a winged youth
Not on view
This slightly convex plaque with tapering sides depicts a winged youth holding a papyrus blossom in each hand. It was found in a large 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 piece was probably used to decorate a circular cosmetic box or as an inlay for a wooden piece of furniture. It is carved in the champlevé technique, in which recessed spaces cut into the plaque were filled with colored inlays. The red pigment that can be seen in the cells of the body is primarily composed of iron, a red colorant, whereas the pigment preserved in the wings, kilt, and papyrus blossoms is blue. The preserved inlay in the proper left leg, which is made of leaded glass (glass with added lead), is colored blue by the addition of copper. This suggests that the other cells of the body were also inlaid with colored leaded glass and set against a background of red pigment. While there is no way to know the original color of the leaded glass inlays that do not survive in the other cells of the body, it is possible that this figure was intended to be seen as blue outlined in red. Several elements, including the champlevé technique and the skillful carving of the slender figure, are characteristic of Phoenician artistry, as is the Egyptianizing motif of a winged youth crowned by a solar disc holding papyrus blossoms. Carved traces on the edges of the plaque suggest that it was attached to additional plaques on either side which were also decorated with Egyptianizing imagery in the form of papyrus blossoms and a column with a floral capital.
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.