Carved ivory depicting a woman at a window

Phoenician, 9th-8th century BC
From Nimrud, northern Iraq

A sacred prostitute?

This ivory panel was once part of a piece of furniture. (The West Semitic letter gimel is incised twice on the back of the panel, to guide the furniture-maker during construction.) The excavator Henry Layard found it with other objects in the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud, the site of the ancient Assyrian capital of Kalhu.

The panel shows a woman with Egyptian-style hair looking out of what appears to be a window. It is often thought that she is a sacred prostitute, connected with Astarte or Ishtar, goddess of fertility, but the exact significance of the scene is unclear. Versions of these panels can be seen decorating the legs of a couch on which King Ashurbanipal reclines in the 'Garden Party' scene at Nineveh.

Ivory was clearly popular as a form of decoration throughout the Near East. Examples of various styles but of similar date are also known from elsewhere at Nimrud, where they may have been part of captured booty or tribute, as well as from the Assyrian city of Khorsabad, and further afield in Syria and Israel.

Find in the collection online

More information


A.H. Layard, Nineveh and its remains, 2 volumes (London, J. Murray, 1849)

J.E. Curtis and J.E. Reade (eds), Art and empire: treasures from (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

R.D. Barnett, Illustrations of Old Testament, 2nd edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1976)


Height: 11.000 cm
Width: 8.850 cm

Museum number

ME 118159


Excavated by A.H. Layard


Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore