Under the patronage of the Assyrian kings, the art of ivory carving flourished in the ancient Near East. At the capital of Kalhu (modern Nimrud in northern Iraq), thousands of exquisitely carved ivories, many of them inset with colored glass and gems, have been uncovered in palace chambers. Most of these are decorated vessels, implements, and plaques; the latter were often designed as furniture inlays.
The Art Museum’s figurine is a rare example of an Assyrian ivory sculpture in the round. The statuette probably was commissioned by an Assyrian aristocrat. The subject, a bearded man with a filleted headdress, wears an ankle-length robe and a fringed shawl. He stands with arms folded at the waist. His resolute gaze and clasped hands clearly identify him as a worshiper in the act of prayer. The figure’s full-length garment with its rows of perforated squares was characteristic clothing for gods and royalty. These squares, imitated here in embroidery, represent gold plaquettes, which originally were sewn onto fabric.