Flagon with Biblical Scenes
Western Mediterranean, early 5th century
Silver with partial gilding, 21.6 x about 7.6 cm
National Museum Of Scotland in Edinburgh
The relief, in repousse, has been partially crushed. There are numerous cracks and missing pieces. Part of the sides and upper half of the neck are restored with smooth sheets of silver-plated tin. The gilding, lost during conservation, has been renewed.
The slender neck is encircled by a protruding wreath of leaves. The foot ring is formed of globular knobs. The sides of the vessel are arranged in five zones of varying width. The first is a wreath of acanthus leaves, followed by a frieze of lambs, trees, and a stable. Next, a narrow strip with acanthus ornament forms a transition to the fourth zone with four scenes : in the Adoration of the Magi, the three present bowls with their gifts to the enthroned Mother of God; to the right Moses strikes the rock, and two Israelites hold out containers to catch the water that flows from it; the Fall follows, with Adam and Eve next to the tree with the serpent; the last scene, badly damaged in the upper part, has been interpreted as the betrayal by Judas. It appears, however, that here, too, we have an episode from the life of Moses—the miracle of the quails in the desert. The right figure has bent his head back and looks upward. His left hand is either pointing up or catching something. The miracles of the water and quails are depicted together on Roman sarcophagi in a similar arrangement . The Adoration of the Magi and the Fall also fit into the repertory of Early Christian art in the Roman West. A rinceau forms the lower border. The flagon is stylistically close to the silver flask with the healing of the blind in the British Museum, as well as the silver pyxis from Pola in Vienna. A more precise definition of the place of origin of these silver works has not been possible. Such small bottle-like vases with scenes of the Old and New Testaments probably did not have any specific function. In their form, the grouping of the figure friezes, and the ornamental decoration, they resemble contemporary works with pagan representations and were surely produced in the same workshops.
The Edinburgh flagon is part of the treasure of the Traprain Law, East Lothian, outside Roman territory, indicating that the treasure may have been transported there as the spoils of war. The treasure can be dated to the end of the fourth to the beginning of the fifth century by coins from the time of Valentinian to that of Honorius.