Near-Eastern Bronze Plaques from the covering of quiver
Culture: Near-Eastern, Assyrian
Period: 9th 8th century B.C.
Dimensions: H. 24cm and 23 cm
Ex-Surena Collection, London, 1970’s-1980’s; acquired in 2002.
Hammered bronze plaques with minor cracks and repairs; incised decoration perfectly preserved and still clearly visible.
Dark-colored surface, more copper-colored on the lower part, with ample areas of green patina.
The two elements, broken in the undecorated central part, probably belonged to the same object, a quiver made essentially of perishable materials (wood, leather); as indicated by the rounded shape of the right side and by the presence of many holes pierced along the edges, these plaques were riveted or sewn to their support, whose richly ornamented outer covering they composed. Framed by incised lines and by a chain-patterned frieze, figural scenes are depicted in two metopes, one at the top and one at the bottom of the quiver, surrounded by a garland of fruits (pine cones, pomegranates?).
Two figural scenes are represented: a) the first scene features two symmetrical winged genies, seen in profile, standing on the sides; they each raise a leg and place their foot on the wing of a woman-headed lioness kneeling before them; the genies hold, each with one hand raised, one by the ear and the other by the leg, a small-sized monster, which stands between them facing left; they are each about to strike the monster with a short curved sword, visible in the other hand, still lowered; despite the two pairs of wings, the iconography of the monster – represented standing upright on the heads of the lionesses – recalls Imdugud/Anzu, the lion-headed eagle of Near Eastern mythology; the genies, resembling the many genies that were carved on the reliefs of the great Assyrian palaces, are male winged figures, each with a thick head of hair and a long beard, dressed in a short tunic and in a cloak open at the front, revealing the legs; b) the second scene features the same figures, except for the two woman-headed lionesses; here, Imdugud/Anzu is therefore much taller (almost the same size as the genies) and, like his counterpart in the other metope, he is held by the ear and threatened by swords. The central part of the object is undecorated.
The style and quality of the representation are remarkable and worthy of the greatest artistic achievements of the period; on the one hand, the scenes are perfectly organized and symmetrical; on the other, the figures are slender and beautifully proportioned, rendered by many extremely precise and detailed incisions (fabrics, hair, wing feathers,monsters’ coats). The presence of winged genies driving out a negative creature like Imdugud/Anzu on a personal weapon might be explained by the belief that they could banish evil spirits, a perfect example of which is the location of these beings on the reliefs of Assyrian palaces (according to their type, they were carved near doors or passages leading to courtyards, on walls and so on, to block the forces of evil). Bronze plaques used as a covering for quivers are well attested during the early centuries of the Iron Age in several Near Eastern regions, namely Assyria, Iran (Lorestan, north-western Iran, Susa), Urartu, etc. Although their style differs from region to region, their typology and decorative structure remain similar, with a succession of metopes arranged vertically on the decorated surface. Our example might have originated in a production center located in central Assyria, rather than in Anatolia or on the Iranian plateau; this hypothesis is reinforced by the rich and accurate style and by the iconography of the scenes depicted, which can be linked to certain images carved on Assyrian reliefs dated to the 9th-8th century B.C. (figural scenes of archers with quivers, winged genies, hunting scenes with lions). Some quivers are attributed to Assyrian workshops (cf. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989.281 28, and Paris, Louvre, AO 30389), but their style is less elaborate than this example.
On the quivers housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in the Louvre, see the websites of the museums (April 2012). On the quivers seen on Assyrian palace reliefs, see:
ALBENDA O., The Palace of Sargon, King of Assyria, Paris, 1986, pl. 45, 74, 142. BARNETT R.D., Assyrian Sculpture, London, 1975, pl. 26, 32, 37, 115.
On contemporary quivers, see:
ENGEL N. (ed.), Bronzes du Luristan: Enigmes de l’Iran ancien, IIIe-Ier millénaire av. J.-C., Paris, 2008, pp. 104-105. MERHAV R. (ed.), Urartu: A Metalworking Center in the First Millennium B.C., Jerusalem, 1991, pp. 123-133. MOOREY P.R.S., Some Elaborately Decorated Bronze Quiver Plaques Made in Luristan, c. 750-650 B.C., in Iran, 13, 1975, pp. 19 ff.