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Cylinder Seal with Griffin, Bull and Lion and Inscription, c. 1300–1200 B.C.


Cylinder seals were used for over 3,000 years in the ancient Near East to certify and formalize documents written on clay tablets. Rolled over the clay while still soft, leaving impressions of their designs and inscriptions, they functioned much like a signature of the owner, whose name is often recorded in the cylinder’s cuneiform inscription.

This seal shows a winged griffin dispatching a bull, before a rampant, snarling lion. Epitomizing Mesopotamia miniature art at its best, the artist has taken great care in defining the musculature, fur, and wings of the creatures, which represent divine forces in Mesopotamian religion. The hard chalcedony of the seal allows the representation of very fine detail at a miniature scale. Since it is uninscribed, this was probably a personal seal, whose iconography was chosen to ward off malevolent forces.



Private collection, Syria.

Private collection, Lebanon, acquired between 1962 and 1968;

(art dealer, New Jersey) by 1981;

(Ward & Company Fine Art, Inc., New York), by 2001;

purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 2001.

Due to inclement weather, the Kimbell will be closed on Friday, February 3, and will resume normal business hours on Saturday, February 4.