Caskets

Box with Scenes from the Fall of Adam and Eve and the Story of Joseph
10th-11th century 
The front of this casket depicts the Fall of Adam and the Temptation of Eve, flanking the Sorrowing Adam below the lockplate. A fourth plaque on the back of the casket portrays Adam hiding behind a tree and covering his nudity. The large rectangular plaque set into the casket's lid shows the Old Testament patriarch Jacob ordering his son Joseph to follow his brothers, and the Angel of the Lord guiding his way. These Old Testament images must have been intended as moral examples for the box's owner. It was probably used in a private home for the safekeeping of valuables. In Constantinople, where urban life, especially in the middle Byzantine period (843-1204) surpassed that of any western center, luxury items such as boxes made of ivory and bone were in great demand and produced serially. A number of details point toward such a system of manufacture: many extant boxes have similar dimensions, and often the borders were cut to size and used as fillers. The plaque on the lid of this box with biblical scenes is smaller than the allotted space, a sign that it was not made to measure. Likewise, the presence of peg holes prepared but not drilled through (like those in the upper left border) indicates that the plaque was part of a stockpile and not custom made. These techniques allowed workshops to produce more affordable wares, thus meeting the needs of a larger market. The wealthier patrons might order a custom-made box covered in ivory plaques, consumers of more modest means could purchase a box decorated with the plaques and strips of carved bone that the workshop kept in stock.

Casket with Images of Cupids
10th century
This finely carved ivory casket is decorated with curly-haired “erotes” (cupids) in the guise of warriors, dancers, and musicians. The lid shows two in equestrian combat while the trapezoidal panel in front shows a group of four  “erotes” and a centaur dancing and playing musical instruments. The rectangular plaque on the casket's front features an  “erotes” playing a harp on a stand, a chariot drawn by panthers, and two other  “erotes” playing musical instruments.

Casket with Warriors in Combat
10th-11th century
This casket depicts nude putti in combative poses using various weapons, and in some cases their bare hands. Each figure is shown in its own rectangular frame, separated by vegetal scrolls and linear motifs. The object gives us a good impression of the lighter, at times comical quality of Byzantine secular art. Such boxes were probably used to hold valuables or important documents.

Jewelry Box with Dancers and Faun 
4th-6th century 
This reconstructed wood and bone box was probably used by a wealthy woman to store her precious jewelry. Two different techniques were used to carve the bone plaques on its sides and top. For a number of the male nudes, the carver scraped away the background, leaving the figures in raised relief. For other plaques, such as the female dancers, deep fine outlines were carved first, then filled in with colored wax.

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016