Constantinople, second half of 10th century
This casket shows scenes from classical mythology. On the lid is the Rape of Europa. In this myth Jupiter, king of the gods (the Greek Zeus), disguised himself as a bull and abducted a mortal woman. Centaurs (half-men, half-horses) and maenads (wild women) play and dance to the music of Hercules (the Greek Herakles). On the front are scenes from the stories of Bellerophon and Iphigenia. On the back is part of a dionysiac procession, with two figures identified as Mars, god of war (the Greek Ares), and Venus, goddess of love (the Greek Aphrodite). The ends bear scenes of Bacchus, god of wine (the Greek Dionysius), in a chariot drawn by panthers, and a nymph riding a seahorse.
The Veroli casket belongs to a group of Byzantine ivory and bone boxes made in the late 10th and early 11th centuries. They are known as 'Rosette caskets' because of their border decoration. The detailed treatment of the carving and the deep undercutting of the scenes mark this one out as the finest of the group. Like the Córdoba Casket, it was probably made for a member of the Umayyad house. (The Umayyads ruled Islam from 661 to 750 AD. Their capital was Damascus in Syria.) Originally, it must have belonged to a person of high standing, possibly at the court of the Byzantine emperor Constantine VIII (976-1028). This casket was kept in the Cathedral Treasury at Veroli, a town south-east of Rome, until 1861.
On the top and the sides of the Veroli casket are subjects from classical myths, surrounded with bands of rosettes. The subjects may be identified as follows:
On the left of the lid, the Rape of Europa. On the right, centaurs and others playing and dancing. On the front of the casket, the stories of Bellerophon and Iphegenia, on the back a scene with children and animals and other representations of Europa, with Mars and Venus. On one end of the casket Bacchus, on the other a nymph riding a sea horse.
Veroli Casket (V&A)