This carved ivory plaque was found in a storage room in Fort Shalmaneser, a royal building at Nimrud that was used to store booty and tribute collected by the Assyrians while on military campaign. It depicts a bull galloping to the left; the lower legs, tail, and horns have broken off. The bull is carved in the openwork technique, in which the background is cut away and remaining elements are carved in the round or in high relief, as here. The large eye was drilled to emphasize the pupil, giving it a vivid gaze. The ribs are defined by vertical parallel lines, and similar lines frame the eye and the muscular ridges on the back of the neck. This plaque was probably part of a row of animals positioned in a frieze and used to decorate a piece of furniture. Carved ivory pieces such as this were widely used in the production of elite furniture during the early first millennium B.C. They were often inlaid into a wooden frame using joinery techniques and glue, and could be overlaid with gold foil or inlaid to create a dazzling effect of gleaming surfaces and bright colors. Rows of bulls and cows with nursing calves, either carved in relief or in the openwork technique, have been found among the ivories collected by the Assyrian kings, including several other examples in the Metropolitan’s collection (54.117.10, 59.107.14, 64.37.3, 64.37.4, 67.22.4).
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.
1960, 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 1967, as a result of its financial contribution to the excavations.
"Animal Art from the Ancient Near East," Queens College, City University of New York, November–December 1968.
"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. 1967. "Reports of the Departments: Ancient Near Eastern Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 26 (2), Ninety-Seventh Annual Report of the Trustees of The Metropolitan Museum of Art for the Fiscal Year 1966-1967 (Oct., 1967), pp. 51-52.
Schlossman, Betty. 1968. Animal Art from the Ancient Near East, exh. cat. Flushing, New York: Queens College, no. 22.
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. 738, p. 165, pl. 188-189.