Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Nimrud Ivories

     The Metropolitan Museum has a large collection of carved ivory plaques that were found in the Assyrian capital of Nimrud. These plaques were no doubt used as decorative devices on furniture in the royal palace.

     Nimrud, called Kalhu in ancient times, is first mentioned by Shalmaneser I (1272 - 1243 B. C.). Portions of the city were re-built by Ashurnasirpal II (883 - 859 B. C.). Later kings (Sargon and Sennacherib) built palaces at Nimrud.

Fig. 1 - Egyptianizing Carved Ivory from Nimrud
     The first excavator of this city was Austen Henry Layard, who spent several years working at the site between 1845 and 1851. Max Mallowan started excavating at Nimrud in 1949, and it was he who found a large percentage of the famous ivories that are now in the museums of the world.

Fig. 2 - Egyptianizing Carved Ivory from Nimrud
     While some of the ivories found were made by Assyrian artists and used Assyrian decorative motifs, many others were clearly made by non-assyrian artists. These plaques probably got to Nimrud either as tribute paid by foreign princes or as plunder from conquered cities. Many of these ivories have Egyptian themes, although they were not carved in Egypt. In fact, Phoenicia is a more likely origin for these particular ivories.

    If you take a look at the ivory shown here, which dates to the 9th or 8th century B. C., you can see the winged sun disk above the woman's head. The sun disk itself, has a uraeus (cobra) on both sides of it. This is, of course, a very common motif in Egyptian art. The woman herself holds a lotus flower in one hand; this is also a common motif in Egyptian art. In her other hand she holds a lion (?), which is not a common motif in Egyptian art. Also, her head dress sort of looks egyptian, but was clearly carved by a non-egyptian artist.


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