Byzantine and Russian icons, £15.99
Length: 27.940 cm
Width: 20.320 cm
Height: 5.710 cm
Excavated by Capt. E. Clayton and Dr Raynolds
Room 54: Anatolia and Urartu
Bronze furniture fitting in the shape of a lion
Urartian, around 700 BC
From Toprakkale (ancient Rusahinili), eastern Anatolia (modern Turkey)
A stylized lion with a highly decorated surface
Although now twisted out of shape, this piece of cast bronze in the shape of a lion with bull's hooves was probably part of a throne. The grinning lion is very stylized: his forehead and nose are ornamented and he has a pattern of close curls on his chest. The piece was originally inlaid and the bronze was gilded, so the effect must have been rich and colourful. It comes from Toprakkale (ancient Rusahinili) in Urartu, the site of a major temple of the god Haldi.
Ancient furniture was usually made of wood, but important pieces were decorated with such materials as ivory or metals. The kingdom of Urartu was the centre of one of the most sophisticated bronze production industries of the whole of Anatolia and the Near East in the first part of the first millennium BC, and the site of Toprakkale has produced some of the best evidence for elaborate bronze furniture fittings. Survival on this scale is rare in the archaeological record because the raw material was valuable, and finished objects could be melted down for the bronze to be re-used.
Urartu, centred on Lake Van, was the northern neighbour and rival of the Assyrian Empire from the ninth to the seventh centuries BC. It had disappeared before 600 BC, possibly destroyed by raids of horse-borne warriors known to the Greeks as Scythians, associated with the Medes from western Iran. The name survives, however, in that of its highest mountain, Ararat.
D. Frankel, The ancient kingdom of Urartu (London, The British Museum Press, 1979)
D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern art (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
R. Merhav, Urartu: a metalworking centre (Jerusalem, Israel Museum, 1991)
R.D. Barnett, 'The excavations of the British Museum at Toprak Kale near Van', Iraq-6, 12 (1950)