Description In the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, Elam, to the east of Mesopotamia in Iran, experienced a brief period of prosperity during which it allied itself with Babylonia against Assyria. The seals produced in Elam during this period reflect themes derived from Mesopotamia, such as the lion hunt seen here; however, the strong modeling, the almost decorative patterning of the details, and the exaggerated posture of the lion characterize the local Elamite style. Cylinder seals are cylindrical objects carved in reverse (intaglio) in order to leave raised impressions when rolled into clay. Seals were generally used to mark ownership, and they could act as official identifiers, like a signature, for individuals and institutions. A seal’s owner rolled impressions in wet clay to secure property such as baskets, letters, jars, and even rooms and buildings. This clay sealing prevented tampering because it had to be broken in order to access a safeguarded item. Cylinder seals were often made of durable material, usually stone, and most were drilled lengthwise so they could be strung and worn. A seal’s material and the images inscribed on the seal itself could be protective. The artistry and design might be appreciated and considered decorative as well. Cylinder seals were produced in the Near East beginning in the fourth millennium BCE and date to every period through the end of the first millennium BCE.
Provenance Henry Walters, Baltimore, [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; Sadie Jones (Mrs. Henry Walters), New York, 1931, by inheritance; Joseph Brummer, Paris and New York, 1941, by purchase; Walters Art Museum, 1941, by purchase.
Credit Museum purchase [formerly part of the Walters Collection], 1941
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