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Ivory Panel – Cow and Calf

850 - 700 BC

This panel depicts a cow turning her head to lick her calf as it nurses at her udder.  The ‘cow and her calf’ motif is one of the earliest and most widespread in the art of the ancient Near East.4  Examples occur already in Old Kingdom Egypt (Dynasty 5) and the Jemdet Nasr Period in Mesopotamia (early 3rd Millennium BC).

Numerous examples occur amongst the ivories from Nimrud, as well as amongst contemporary ivories from the site of Arslan Tash in northern Syria.  This motif is generally associated with scenes of natural fecundity and abundance.

The panel is carved as open-work within a rectangular frame that is now missing.  The eyes of both the cow and the calf were excised in order be inlaid with Egyptian Blue frit.  This fact reminds us that the ivories were originally not monochrome, having once been highlighted with coloured stone or frit and gold leaf.