Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Shaft-hole axe head with bird-headed demon, boar, and dragon

Period:
Bronze Age
Date:
ca. late 3rd–early 2nd millennium B.C.
Geography:
Bactria-Margiana
Culture:
Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex
Medium:
Silver, gold foil
Dimensions:
L. 15 cm
Classification:
Metalwork-Implements
Credit Line:
Purchase, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, and James N. Spear and Schimmel Foundation Inc. Gifts, 1982
Accession Number:
1982.5
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 403
Ancient Bactria and Margiana were areas along the Oxus and Murghab rivers in modern Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. While these areas were sparsely inhabited during much of the third millennium B.C., by about 2200 B.C. permanent settlements with distinctive forms of architecture, burial practices, and material culture had been established, supported in part by active trade with parts of Iran, Mesopotamia, and the Indus Valley.

This silver-gilt shaft-hole axe is a masterpiece of three-dimensional and relief sculpture. Expertly cast and gilded with foil, it represents a bird-headed hero grappling with a wild boar and a winged dragon. The idea of the heroic bird-headed creature probably came from western Iran, where it is first documented on a cylinder seal impression. The hero's muscular body is human except for the bird talons that replace the hands and feet. He is represented twice, once on each side of the axe, and consequently appears to have two heads. On one side, he grasps the boar by the belly and on the other, by the tusks. The posture of the boar is contorted so that its bristly back forms the shape of the blade. With his other talon, the bird-headed hero grasps the winged dragon by the neck. This creature is distinguished by folded and staggered wings, a feline body, and the talons of a bird of prey in the place of his front paws. Its single horn has been broken off and lost.
By 1967, Mahboubian collection; acquired by the Museum in 1982, purchased from Mehdi Mahboubian, New York.

“Joseph Ternbach: Conservator/Collector,” The Queens Museum, New York, September 8, 1984–January 13, 1985.

“Ancient Art: Gifts from the Norbert Schimmel Collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, June 4, 1991–September 15, 1991.

"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.

“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.

Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 112 (July 1,1981 - June 30, 1982), p. 18.

Queens Museum of Art. 1984. Joseph Ternbach: Conservator/Collector, exh. cat. New York: Queens County Art and Cultural Center, p. 43, no. 67.

Harper, Prudence O. et al. 1984. "Ancient Near Eastern Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 41 (4), Spring 1984, pp. 26-27, fig. 28.

Pittman, Holly. 1984. Art of the Bronze Age: Southeastern Iran, Western Central Asia, and the Indus Valley. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 76-77, fig. 36.

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. 34-35, fig. 19.

Time Life Books. 1987. The Age of God-Kings: TimeFrame 3000-1500 B.C. New York: Time Life Books, p. 156.

Muscarella, Oscar W. 1992. “Ancient Art: Gifts from the Norbert Schimmel Collection.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 49, p. 53, no. 6.

Potts, Timothy. 1994. Mesopotamia and the East: An Archaeological and Historical Study of Foreign Relations ca. 3400-2000 B.C., Monograph 37. Oxford University Press, p. 173, fig. 27.

Collon, Dominique. 1995. Ancient Near Eastern Art. London: British Museum, p. 87.

Aruz, Joan. 2003. "Shaft-hole axe with a bird-demon, boar, and winged dragon." 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. 264, pp. 373-374.

Benoit, Agnès. 2008. “Ceremonial Axe.” 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. 81, pp. 244-245.

Benzel, Kim, Sarah B. Graff, Yelena Rakic, and Edith W. Watts. 2010. Art of the Ancient Near East: A Resource for Educators. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, image 12, pp. 74-75.
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