Relief with Ariadne

Egypt (?), early 6th century

Ivory, 40 x 13.8 cm


The relief is damaged only slightly. The arm of the putto on the right and branches of the tree on the right have been restored. 
The large central female figure stands frontally. She holds a thyrsus in her right hand and a bowl in her left. She is dressed in a high-girt chiton which falls open to expose her right breast. Around her waist hangs a mantle and over her head is a veil. On the right side is a small figure of Pan. On the left a small female figure, who must be a maenad, wraps one arm around the bottom of the thyrsus, while holding what appear to be two small bells or castanets connected by a cord. Above, two putti hold a wreath over the head of the central figure. 
The wreath is generally a symbol of marriage, especially when held by putti. The large figure is Greek gods most likely to be identified as Ariadne, the bride of Dionysos. The wreath became a symbol of Ariadne in the constellation Corona Borealis. 
The style of the ivory is close to the Barberini Diptych and the Aachen pulpit, which suggests the date in the early sixth century. Certainly, stylistic details point to manufacture in Egypt. The work was found with other objects, which suggests that it was part of the decoration of a chair. It may have been accompanied by a similar plaque depicting Dionysus. 

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016