Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Cloisonné furniture plaque with two griffins in a floral landscape

Period:
Neo-Assyrian
Date:
ca. 8th century B.C.
Geography:
Mesopotamia, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu)
Culture:
Assyrian
Medium:
Ivory
Dimensions:
H. 4 1/8 x W. 4 11/16 x D. 7/16in. (10.5 x 11.9 x 1.1cm)
Classification:
Ivory/Bone-Reliefs
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1961
Accession Number:
61.197.1
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 400
This slightly concave, exquisitely carved plaque depicts two addorsed griffins, hybrid creatures with the body of a lion and the head, wings, and talons of an eagle, within a floral landscape now missing its brightly-colored inlays. It was found 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. A rectangular projection, or tenon, in the center of the upper edge is perforated longitudinally with a dowel hole, suggesting that this piece was originally secured to a frame by means of a dowel and mortise, likely as part of a piece of furniture. The West Semitic letter Heth is inscribed into the reverse of the ivory. Known as a fitter’s mark, this letter would have served as a guide to aid the craftsperson in the piece-by-piece assembly of the original piece of furniture to which this plaque originally belonged. From a central volute in the lower portion of the plaque with two palmettes extending on either side, a large, ovoid volute encircles two back-to-back griffins, their wing feathers and sidelocks meticulously cut into cloisons, walled cells meant to hold inlays, probably of semiprecious stone or colored glass. These hybrid creatures stand in a forest of lotus blossoms and extend their necks upwards to nibble on foliage. The plaque’s symmetrical composition and skillful carving style are characteristically Phoenician, as is the cloisonné technique, especially the treatment of floral stalks formed as alternating solid and inlaid bands.

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.
1961, 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 1961, 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.

"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.

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

Crawford, Vaughn E. 1962. "Ivories from the Earth." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 21, p. 146, fig. 10.

Mallowan, Max E.L. 1966. Nimrud and its Remains II. London: Collins, p. 572, fig. 527.

Crawford, Vaughn E. et al. 1966. Ancient Near Eastern Art: Guide to the Collections. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 22, fig. 34.

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. 322.

Crawford, Vaughn E. et al. 1980. Assyrian Reliefs and Ivories in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Palace Reliefs of Assurnasirpal II and Ivory Carvings from Nimrud. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, fig. 30.

Herrmann, Georgina. 1986. Ivories from Room SW37 Fort Shalmaneser, Ivories from Nimrud (1949-1963), Fasc. IV. London: The British School of Archaeology in Iraq, no. 1258, p. 234, pl. 326-327.

Feldman, Marian. 2008. “The Legacy of Ivory-Working Traditions in the Early First Millennium B.C.” In Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C., exh. cat. edited by Joan Aruz, Kim Benzel, and Jean M. Evans. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, fig. 144, p. 447.

Rakic, Yelena ed. 2010. Discovering the Art of the Ancient Near East: Archaeological Excavations Supported by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1931–2010. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 68 (1), Summer 2010, p. 18.

Aruz, Joan, with Jean-Franҫois de Lapérouse. 2014. “Nimrud Ivories.” 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. 3.42, pp. 147-150.
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