The Cesena Plate

Rome(?), late 4th century

Silver gilt and niello, diameter 63 cm

Biblioteca Malatestiana in Cesena, Italy

The plate has a central medallion divided horizontally into two scenes. The upper is a typical banquet scene, not unlike that of the Brooklyn textile. Five men, dressed in long-sleeved girded tunics and leggings, lie around a table (stibadium) laden with food. From the left a servant approaches, pouring water to wash the diners' hands, while another serves wine from the right. The trees and a drawn curtain indicate that the setting is a tent in the open. The lower scene depicts a well-groomed horse wearing a double chain with golden discs around its belly and neck, which is attended by a groom who is dressed like the banqueters. The horse, perhaps the winner of a race, has emerged from an elaborate building, similar to the villa in a North African floor mosaic, which has a tower, an apse, and a loggia.

The segment below is filled with a small pool indicating a moat and a variety of birds. The much damaged frieze of the rim seems to have been restored already in antiquity. It consists of alternating hunting and pastoral scenes, separated by medallions, of which only four of the original eight are left. The animals are executed with special care in the smallest detail, as are the shepherds in their different occupations. The very lively hunters on horseback battle ferocious beasts. The medallion heads have wide-open eyes and curly hair One, with a crown of rays, is Helios; another one, veiled, probably represents another constellation or a season. Comparing these medallions with dated contorniates, it has been ascribed as a plate dating to the end of the fourth century, also the date of the very similar Augst plate; moreover, Arias sees an oriental influence in the costumes and several other details. On the back of the plate are two rubbed stamps, for which, according to Dodd, no parallel has yet been found. This plate was found in Cesena with another plate and an Ostrogothic coin of the end of the fourth century.

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016