Inlay in the Form of a Winged Sphinx with Captive

9th to 8th Century BC
Ivory, pigment, and gold
2006.21.1
Gift of 2006 Veneralia Patrons in honor of Monique and Ferdinand Seefried

This rare and exquisite ivory carving was the work of a skilled Syrian or Phoenician craftsman and was produced in the Levant, although the motif is Egyptian. It was not only carved of rare ivory, but it was embellished with blue, red, and black pigment and adorned with gold leaf. It would have decorated a piece of furniture perhaps similar to the throne of King Solomon, as described in the Bible (I Kings 10:18-20). The Phoenicians were renowned as artisans and were employed in the decoration of Solomon's temple. A number of these ivories were found in the excavations at Nimrud by the archaeologist Max Mallowan and conserved by his famous wife, Agatha Christie. These may well have come, at least in part, from the sack of Jerusalem by the Assyrians. It is difficult, however, to place many of these in context having been found as faraway as Crete, Mesopotamia, Turkey, and Palestine. The theme is derived from Egyptian art– a winged sphinx dominating a Nubian captive, but by the first millennium BC these motif had been adopted as an international style signifying the cosmopolitan taste of the fabled Near Eastern civilizations.