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Furniture support: female sphinx with Hathor-style curls

Middle Bronze Age–Old Assyrian Trading Colony
ca. 18th century B.C.
Anatolia, probably from Acemhöyük
Old Assyrian Trading Colony
Ivory (Hippopotamus), gold foil
H. 5 x W. 4 1/8 in. (12.7 x 10.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of George D. Pratt, 1932
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Around 1900 B.C., traders from the northern Mesopotamian city of Ashur established karums, or "merchants' colonies," at a number of central Anatolian cities, among them the site of Acemhöyük. Assyrian merchants lived in a restricted area of these cities, trading textiles and tin from the southeast for silver but operating under the rule of local kings. Acemhöyük is a large mound located south of Ankara near the Turkish town of Aksaray on the Konya Plain. It lay on a route linking Anatolia and the East and seems to have been an important center for the copper trade and industry. In 1965 a Turkish archaeological expedition found sealed bullae, inscribed clay tablets, ivories, and other objects outside the karum of Acemhöyük in two burned palaces on the highest part of the mound.

    A group of ivories given to the Museum in the 1930s is thought to have come from Acemhöyük because of close similarities in style and subject to those known to have been found there. Ranging in color from white to gray-blue and a pinkish orange, they have been warped and discolored by fire and soil conditions. They were carved to represent the fantastic composite creatures important in the mythology of the ancient Near East. This small female sphinx is a form borrowed from the Egyptians. Her large almond-shaped eyes and spiral locks ultimately derive from the Egyptian goddess Hathor. As with the later ivories from Nimrud, this sphinx, one of four in the Museum, was carved as furniture decoration.

  • Provenance

    Acquired by the Museum in 1932, gift of George D. Pratt.

  • Exhibition History

    "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.

    "Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 17, 2008–March 15, 2009.

  • References

    Winlock, Herbert E. 1933. "Assyria: a new chapter in the museum's history of art." The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 28 (2), p. 24.

    Dimand, Maurice S. 1936. "A Gift of Syrian ivories." The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 31 (11), p. 221.

    Decamps de Mertzenfeld, Christiane. 1954. Inventaire Commenté des Ivoires Phéniciens. Paris: E. De Boccard, p. 164, pl. CXXVI, fig. 1088a.

    Encyclopedia of World Art: World Art in our Time, vol. XVI, supplement.

    Farkas, Ann. 1964. In Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me, exh. cat. New York: The Jewish Museum, no. 137

    Menil, Domique de. 1964. Constant Companions, exh. cat. Houston: University of St. Thomas, no. 12.

    Harper, Prudence O. 1969. "Dating a group of ivories from Anatolia." The Connoisseur, November 1969, p. 160-161, fig. 8.

    Barnett, Richard D. 1982. Ancient Ivories in the Middle East and Adjacent Countries. Qedem 14. Jerusalem: Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, pl. 26e.

    Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1983. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, edited by Kathleen Howard. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 58, fig. 31.

    Aruz, Joan, and Jean-François de Lapérouse. 2008. In Beyond Babylon, exh. cat. edited by Joan Aruz, Kim Benzel and Jean M. Evans. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 83-85, fig. 30.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History