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Researchers' Guides to the Collections | Seals & Tablets
The seals collection is one of the most distinguished in the United States and among the best known in the world. These engraved objects provide a continuous artistic and chronological sequence of over three thousand years: in addition to being great works of art in miniature, they are crucial to our understanding of ancient Mesopotamia.
Morgan's Collection: Beginning and Expansion
Between about 1885 and 1908, the American collector William
Hayes Ward assembled, probably on
Although Morgan's collection contained a few important stamp seals, including some later Sassanian examples, most of the seals he acquired were cylinder seals. Two additional major gifts have enhanced the collection: 74 cylinder seals and 70 stamp seals collected by Robert F. Kelley and given by his sister Caroline M. Burns in 1977 and 194 cylinder and 258 stamp seals given by Jonathan P. Rosen in 1986.
Styles and Periods
The seals collection covers all the significant styles of Mesopotamian engraving from the end of the fourth millennium to the fourth century B.C. as well as most of the styles of other countries of the ancient Near East. Areas of particular strength include Babylonian (first dynasty), seals of the second millennium made outside of southern Mesopotamia (Cappadocian, Syrian, and Mitannian), and Neo-Assyrian seals. The Middle Assyrian seals are some of the finest in any collection.
Cuneiform Tablets and Art Objects
Pierpont Morgan collected nearly three thousand cuneiform
tablets, the bulk of which
The Library owns a few outstanding art objects from the
ancient Near East. A copper figurine from the time of Gudea, ruler of
the city of Lagash (ca. 2144-2124 B.C.) is in the form of a kneeling
god holding a peg. A copper foundation figure inscribed with the name
of Ur-Nammu (2112-2095 B.C.) represents the first ruler of the Third
Dynasty of Ur nude from the waist up, with both arms raised to steady
a basket of building materials he carries atop his head. The high quality
of the figure indicates that it is the product of a royal workshop.
The eye stone amulet of Nebuchadnezzar II,
Edith Porada Papers and Seal Impressions
The seals collection was first published in 1948, in the Corpus of Ancient Near Eastern Seals in North American Collections: The Collection of the Pierpont Morgan Library. Dr. Edith Porada, author of the Corpus, was appointed Honorary Curator of Seals and Tablets in 1956, a position she held until her death in 1994. In addition to the Corpus, Porada's legacy to the Morgan includes her library, now part of the Reference Collection, her papers, and her extensive collections of modern seal impressions, photographs, and drawings. These were made from public and private collections around the world, some of which are no longer accessible to American scholars.
CORSAIR, the Morgan's online collection catalog, is available here.