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Cylinder seal: hunting scene

ca. 2250–2150 B.C.
H. 1 1/8 in. (2.8 cm)
Stone-Cylinder Seals-Inscribed
Credit Line:
Bequest of W. Gedney Beatty, 1941
Accession Number:
  • Description

    While carved stones had been used to stamp impressions on clay from as early as the seventh millennium B.C., the invention in the fourth millennium B.C. of carved cylinders that could be rolled over clay allowed the development of complex seal designs. These cylinder seals served as both a kind of amulet and as a mark of ownership or identification. Seals were either impressed on clay masses that were used to close jars, doors, and baskets, or they were rolled onto inscribed clay tablets that recorded information about commercial or legal transactions. They often were made of precious stones; both the material itself and the carved design were thought to have protective properties. Cylinder seals are important to the study of ancient Near Eastern art because many examples survive from every period; they serve as a visual chronicle of changes in style and iconography.

    This seal, depicting a man hunting an ibex in a mountain forest, is an early attempt to represent a landscape in Mesopotamian art. It was made during the Akkadian period (2350–2150 B.C.), during which the iconographic repertory of the seal engraver expanded to include a variety of mythological and narrative subjects that had been unknown. The owner of the seal was Balu-ili, a high court official whose title was Cupbearer.

  • Provenance

    From 1924, on loan by W. Gedney Beatty to the Museum (L.2364.6); acquired by the Museum in 1941, bequest of W. Gedney Beatty.

  • Exhibition History

    "Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus," The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, May 8–August 17, 2003.

  • References

    Harper, Prudence O. et al. 1984. "Ancient Near Eastern Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 41 (4), Spring 1984, p. 32, fig. 37.

    Pittman, Holly, in collaboration with Joan Aruz. 1987. Ancient Art in Miniature: Near Eastern Seals from the Collection of Martin and Sarah Cherkasky. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 22-23, fig. 12.

    Hansen, Donald P. 2003. "Cylinder seal with ibex in a landscape." In Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus, exh. cat. edited by Joan Aruz, with Ronald Wallenfels. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 149, pp. 219-220.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History