Openwork furniture plaque with the head of a feline

ca. 9th–8th century B.C.
Mesopotamia, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu)
2.09 x 1.89 x 0.94 in. (5.31 x 4.8 x 2.39 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1962
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 404
Found in a storeroom at Fort Shalmaneser, a royal building at Nimrud that was used to store booty and tribute collected by the Assyrians while on military campaign, this piece depicts the frontal face of a feline wearing a beaded wesekh broad collar flanked by two rising sun-disc crowned uraei (mythical, fire-spitting serpents). This image is drawn from Egyptian art, where the head of a feline can represent both Bastet, the goddess of the city of Bubastis in the Nile Delta, and Sakhmet, the Egyptian goddess of war, disease, and chaos. This plaque has been attributed to the Phoenician style due to its Egyptian-influenced imagery. A tenon projecting from the feline’s headdress suggests that this piece was originally fitted into a frame, likely as part of a piece of wooden furniture. Two dowel holes, one drilled into the tenon and one through the edge of the broad collar from the bottom of the plaque, suggest that it was originally secured to a frame by means of dowels. The West Semitic letter Bet is inscribed into the smooth reverse of this plaque. Known as a fitter’s mark, this inscription would have served as a guide to aid the craftsperson in the piece-by-piece assembly of the piece of furniture to which this plaque originally belonged.

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.
1962, excavated by Max Mallowan, on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq; ceded in the division of finds to the British School of Archaeology in Iraq; acquired by the Museum in 1962, as a result of its financial contribution to the excavations.

"Origin and Influence, Cultural Contacts: Egypt, the Ancient Near East, and the Classical World." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, December 18, 1970–April 23, 1971.

"Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, September 22, 2014–January 4, 2015.

Millard, A.B. 1962. "Alphabetic Inscriptions of Ivories from Nimrud." Iraq 24, p. 46.

Harper, Prudence O. 1971. "Origin and Influence Cultural Contacts: Egypt, the Ancient near East, and the Classical World." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 29 (7), p. 323.

Herrmann, Georgina and Stuart Laidlaw. 2013. Ivories from Rooms SW11/12 and T10 Fort Shalmaneser, Ivories from Nimrud (1949-1963), Fasc. VII. London: The British School of Archaeology in Iraq, no. 29, p. 133, pl. 4.

Aruz, Joan. 2014. “Art and Networks of Interaction Across the Mediterranean.” In Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age, exh. cat. edited by Joan Aruz, Sarah B. Graff, and Yelena Rakic. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, fig. 3.10, p. 122.