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The Projecta Casket 

Rome, mid-4th century

Silver with silver gilt, 30 x 55 x 43 cm


The body of the large casket is a truncated rectangular pyramid whose sides are isoceles trapezoids ; the lid is smaller and similar in shape, surrounded by a horizontal rim with a narrow vertical lip. Three hinges connect the lid and body. The casket once rested on four corner braces, of which three remain, and the object was carried by two swing handles attached to the short ends of the body. The casket has survived in excellent condition with only one major area of restoration on the right end panel of the lid.

The name by which the casket is known, the Projecta Casket, derives from the woman's name in the Latin inscription engraved on the rim across the front of the lid: secvnde et proiecta vivatis in christo ("Secundus and Projecta, live in Christ"). Portraits of the couple, encircled in a wreath, displayed by flanking Erotes, decorate the top of the casket lid.A representation of the Toilette of Venus rises directly above the inscription. The combination is not unusual; the subject is understood not so much as pagan mythology but as a flattering visual analogy to Projecta. Venus, who performs her toilette surrounded by sea creatures, Erotes, and Nereids extending to either side, is the model for the Roman matron on the casket body, who adjusts her coiffure in the company of torchbearers and handmaidens. Projecta and Venus are aligned with one another on a vertical axis; they perform the same functions, in similar postures, however distinct their environments.

The back panel of the casket lid is occupied by a toilette procession. In an active scene from daily life, Projecta, with her properly braided and coiled fourth-century hairstyle, proceeds to an elaborately domed Roman bath in the company of attendants. Some of the boxes and containers carried by the attendants depicted on the casket body resemble the Projecta Casket itself, and one on the back panel of the body resembles the Muse Casket.

The relationship between the two caskets extends beyond a common find-site and general function : the standing female figures of the Projecta Casket closely resemble their counterparts on the muse casket in facial and postural type and in the handling and decoration of draperies. The statuettes of four city goddesses from the Esquiline treasure also follow this style.

All six pieces are best understood as products of the same workshop. A damaged silver vessel from the treasure of Traprain Law, dated on numismatic evidence to the late fourth to early fifth century, provides a stylistic parallel to the Esquiline pieces. The analogies of the figural decoration of the Corbridge lanx and the Parabiago plate also support a fourth-century date for the pieces. The Esquiline Treasure, a large find of over sixty pieces and seventy pounds of silver plate, was found in 1793 on the Esquiline Hill in Rome.

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