عربي Français
Collection Highlights

Ivory plaque depicting Hercules

Ivory plaque depicting Hercules
© BA Antiquities Museum/E. Omar

Registration Number(s)
BAAM Serial Bibliotheca Alexandrina Antiquities Museum Number 0379

Inv.Inventory
 (Greco-Roman Museum) 13289

where to find


showcase 24

Ivory plaque depicting Hercules

Category:
Furniture and furnishing, furniture Inlays
Date:
Graeco-Roman Period, Roman Period (31 BCE-395 CE)
Provenance:
Unknown
Material(s):
Organic material, animal product, ivory
Length:
10 cm
Hall:
Byzantine Antiquities, showcase 24


Description

A fragment of an ivory furniture inlay depicting Hercules looking backwards in what appears to be a shot putting pose, wearing a lion skin and bending his left knee. Strength is expressed in the size of the muscled chest, the abdomen and legs. The facial features are crude with a gawking eye, a rough nose and a large mouth with thin lips. 

The scene is framed by small hearts at the bottom and a geometric pattern at the top.

Ivory carving and its development

Ivory was used in Egypt since the Pre-dynastic Period (4000B.C.), however, its use flourished and took on a new direction through the Alexandrian School during the Graeco-Roman era. Methods of sculpting increased in style and in precision and ivory became highly sought after for inlay decoration. The dyeing of ivory was known to the Egyptians from the time of the Old Kingdom. The two colours mostly in use were black and red, while green has also been found but was rather uncommon.

Works of art in ivory flourished during the Christian era in Egypt and more colours were in use: red, purple, crimson, blue, yellow and green. Blue and purple were considered sacred colours and were highly favoured in ivory panels. Hence, ivory, instead of being used for inlay only, became a medium for a complete tableau expressing inherited traditional religious concepts in Egypt.

Important Schools of Ivory Carving

There was a strong competition in sculpting ivory between the different schools in the east and the west, however, it was keenest among the Alexandrian and Antioch schools (the latter in the Levant) By the late Roman period, both schools were producing very fine and similar work with Christian motifs which makes it difficult to differentiate between them in terms of provenance or dating.

However, in time, Syrian ivory sculptures became more realistic, while the Alexandrian school continued to depict idealized motifs until the sixth century A.D. The rest of Egypt adopted the Syrian school of depiction early on. It should also be noted the importance of Palestine, Byzantine and Italy on that art form.


The information given here is subject to modification/update as a result of ongoing research.

Bibliography
  • Dalton, O. M. East Christian Art: A Survey of the Monuments. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925.
  • Rice, D. Talbot. Byzantine Art. London: Penguin Books,1968.
  • Weitzmann, Kurt. Age of spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century: Catalogue of the Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Princeton University Press, 1978.
  • Beckwith, J. Early Christian and Byzantine Art. London: Penguin Group, 1979.
  • حكمت محمد بركات. جماليات الفن القبطي. القاهرة: دار المصري لتجهيزات الطباعة وفصل الألوان، 1999.
  • عزت زكي حامد قادوس ومحمد عبد الفتاح السيد. الآثار والفنون القبطية. الإسكندرية: الحضري للطباعة، 2000.
Discover The Museum Collections