Cloisonné furniture plaque with a figure holding a sword


Not on view

A clean-shaven figure with long locks of hair, identifiable as male because of the bare chest, holds the grip of a long sword in his upraised right hand and thrusts it diagonally across his body in this fragmentary plaque. While this piece is broken at the figure’s chest, the tip of a curling tail at the upper left corner suggests that he was originally depicted slaying an animal, perhaps a fantastic hybrid creature such as a griffin, in a composition similar to another ivory plaque found at Nimrud also in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection (MMA 61.197.11). The hair and eyes of the figure are cut into cloisons, walled cells meant to hold inlays of colored glass or semiprecious stones, although none of the inlays have survived. The slender proportions, expressed by his individually delineated fingers and elongated facial features, are characteristic of Phoenician ivories. The remains of a projecting, narrow strip of ivory in the upper right corner suggests that this scene was originally set within a raised border. This piece was found with many other carved ivories 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. An adhesive probably aided the attachment of the ivory to a frame which was then set into a piece of wooden furniture. The reverse has been roughened, probably to help the glue join the surface of the plaque to the frame.

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.

Cloisonné furniture plaque with a figure holding a sword, Ivory, Assyrian

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