Strap handle of a box (?)

Roman
Imperial Period
about A.D. 150–300


Catalogue Raisonné

Greek, Etruscan, & Roman Bronzes (MFA), no. 676.

Dimensions

Length: 16.5 cm (6 1/2 in.)

Accession Number

64.83

Medium or Technique

Bronze

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Vessels

In high relief, Attis (?) or, equally likely, Paris stands with legs crossed, leaning on a staff. A chest connected with religious cults would suggest Attis, but Paris would be more appropriate to a lady’s wardrobe or vanity chest. This functional piece of decoration was probably made in Asia Minor, most likely in the third century A.D. The design was fairly common in the decorative arts of the Eastern part of the Roman Empire. The motif of Paris or Attis in his Trojan or Phrygian winter costume, standing with legs crossed and leaning on a staff, often came merely to symbolize the cycle of life and the seasons in a very general way. On the ends of sarcophagi of about A.D. 200, the figure is the shepherd watching Endymion and Selene; its appearance on mythological sarcophagi may reflect use purely as a decorative or filling figure, one originating in painting as early as Hellenistic landscapes echoing Theocritus. On a monumental niche or small arch from the Palace of Galerius at Salonika, work of about A.D. 300, it is used twice in the archivolts for the figures of Attis as a winter and as an autumn season. There may be an object in the left hand, but it may be merely that the figure is grasping the end of the staff on which he leans. Attis, in similar pose, usually holds the knife symbolic of the orgies of his cult. Pairs of large, marble architectural figures, pillars and high reliefs, from cities or sites as far apart as Cyzicus in Mysia and Salerno in Italy show the popularity of representations of Attis in the monumental arts. This class of marble reliefs inspired decorators such as the man who made this handle. Hole for swivel or loop above; locking loop on lower reverse broken off. Yellowish metal surface, with green and reddish encrustation.

Provenance

By date unknown: with Hesperia Art, 2219 St. James Place, Philadelphia 3, Pa. (Hesperia Art, Bulletin XI, no. 188); 1964: Mrs. Cornelius C. Vermeule, Jr. Collection; gift of Mrs. Cornelius C. Vermeule, Jr. to MFA, February 12, 1964

Credit Line

Gift of Mrs. Cornelius C. Vermeule, Jr.