Pyxis with scenes from the life of Christ
Syria (?), 6th century
Ivory, d. 12 cm
The lid and lock are missing. There is a large fissure (next to Christ) to the right of the lock, and the upper edge is damaged. It probably served as a container for the consecrated host.
The sides of the pyxis are covered with five scenes from the New Testament. To the right of the lock, Christ asks for water from the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well and promises her eternal life. A second woman approaches Christ from the right imploring him and touching his robe. She is perhaps the adultress or the woman with the issue of blood. Two more miraculous healings follow: the man born blind and the paralytic. The latter has taken his bed on his shoulders so that his head pokes through the slats . At the rear a man raises his right hand in surprise. A figure making the same gesture, probably another witness, stands behind Christ in the last scene, the Raising of Lazarus. Christ holds a cross with his right hand toward Lazarus, who stands in a tomb aedicula, wrapped in mummy shrouds. His eyes are already open. Under the lock is a Greek cross adorned with gems.
Volbach attributes the pyxis to a group of ivories of the sixth and seventh centuries, whose origin he considers to have been in Anatolia or the Caucasus. Wessel attributes the group to Coptic art. The main piece of this group is the Murano Diptych in Ravenna, attributed by Ainalov to Syria or Palestine. In this piece, several iconographic details resemble those of the Musee de Cluny pyxis, such as the cross-staff of Christ and the tomb aedicule of Lazarus. Characteristic are the elongated figures standing frontally next to each other before a plain background, mainly in groups of three. In its distinctive style and iconography, the Musee de Cluny pyxis is most closely related to the pyxis in Leningrad, which has the same sequence of scenes, completed by the healing of the demoniac. Both belong to a larger group of pyxides that could have originated in Syria.