Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Cylinder seal and modern impression: royal worshiper before a god on a throne; human-headed bulls below

Old Syrian
ca. 1820–1730 B.C.
H. 0.8 in. (2 cm)
Stone-Cylinder Seals
Credit Line:
Purchase, Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gift, 1991
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 403
Although engraved stones had been used as early as the seventh millennium B.C. to stamp impressions in clay, the invention in the fourth millennium B.C. of carved cylinders that could be rolled over clay allowed the development of more complex seal designs. These cylinder seals, first used in Mesopotamia, served as a mark of ownership or identification. Seals were either impressed on lumps of clay that were used to close jars, doors, and baskets, or they were rolled onto clay tablets that recorded information about commercial or legal transactions. The seals were often made of precious stones. Protective properties may have been ascribed to both the material itself and the carved designs. Seals are important to the study of ancient Near Eastern art because many examples survive from every period and can, therefore, help to define chronological phases. Often preserving imagery no longer extant in any other medium, they serve as a visual chronicle of style and iconography.

The modern impression of the seal is shown so that the entire design can be seen. The main scene depicts a worshiper offering a caprid to a divinity seated above two human-headed bulls. The god is enthroned on a stool with animal legs of a type known from actual contemporary remains in wood and ivory from both Egypt and Anatolia. in the field between them are a winged rosette disk with crescent, two stars, a squatting monkey, and an ankh, the Egyptian symbol for life. A sphinx wearing an Egyptian crown attacking an ibex is also depicted above a guilloche and a kneeling griffin-demon in a flounced skirt.
By the 1930s, collection of Mrs. William H. Moore (until d. 1955); from 1955, on loan to the Museum by The Right Reverend Paul Moore, Jr.; acquired by the Museum in 1991, purchased from Sotheby's, New York, December 12th, 1991, no. 110.

“Ancient Art in Miniature: Near Eastern Seals from the Collection of Martin and Sarah Cherkasky,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, September 10, 1987–January 10, 1988.

Williams- Forte, Elizabeth. 1976. A Selection of Stamp and Cylinder Seals from the Collection of Mrs. William H. Moore. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 3.

Collon, Dominique. 1981. "The Aleppo Workshop." Ugarit-Forschungen 13, pp. 33-43, fig. 3j.

Imai, Ayako. 1983. In The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Selections from the Collection of the Ancient Near East Department, exh. cat. Tokyo: Chunichi Shimbun, no. 146.

Sotheby's. The Ada Small Moore Collection of Ancient Near Eastern Seals. 12 December 1991, New York, lot 110.

Aruz, Joan. 1992. "Ancient World." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 50 (2), Recent Acquisitions: A Selection 1991-1992 (Autumn, 1992), p. 6.

Teissier, Beatrice. 1995. Egyptian Iconography on Syro-Palestinian Cylinder Seals of the Middle Bronze Age. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 11. Series Archaeologica. Fribourg: University Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, no. 137.
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