Yale Babylonian Collection receives gift of rare ancient art

The Yale Babylonian Collection has received a gift from a private collection of Near Eastern works of art, primarily from ancient Mesopotamia.

The donation, made by Olga Draiggs and William David in memory of Nazim and Elias Solomon David, includes nearly 400 stamp and cylinder seals, as well as bronzes, terracotta plaques, cuneiform inscriptions, gems, Islamic astrolabes, and sculptures.

The collection was obtained in the early 20th century by Elias Solomon David, an antiquities dealer based in Paris and New York, who worked closely with the Yale Babylonian Collection at that time.

The core of the donation is 360 cylinder seals that would have been used for legal and economic dealings as a signature. The cylinder seals, which date back to the third and fourth millennium, are “miniature works of art which represent thousands of years of art history,” says Agnete Lassen, associate curator of the Yale Babylonian Collection. “They are very intricately carved, tiny pieces that have elaborate imagery on them, and are one of the most important art forms that we have from ancient Mesopotamia.”

Pictured here is an alabaster figure of a reclining bovine from the Jemdet Nasr period, 3100-2900 BCE. (Yale Babylonian Collection)“Even beyond their intrinsic value and beauty, these objects are a superb teaching and learning tool for coming generations of students,” says Benjamin R. Foster, curator of the Yale Babylonian Collection and professor of Assyriology. “This is a rare opportunity for the collection to obtain ancient works in accordance with current legal and ethical policies regarding such acquisitions.”

Adds Lassen, “This gift reunites pieces from the collection of E.S. David and will add significantly to our knowledge of ancient glyptic art.” 

Yale Babylonian Collection     

The Yale Babylonian Collection, founded in 1909 by a gift from J. Pierpont Morgan, is one of the world’s most significant collections of ancient Near Eastern artifacts. Its holdings include over 40,000 cuneiform documents, seals, figurines, and other objects. Among its treasures are a tablet of the “Epic of Gilgamesh” and the world’s earliest literary work by a named author.