Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
The top and bottom of this rectangular intarsia panel is decorated with a molded frame, while the interior and end bear inlaid decoration of undulating lines and a patterned diamond. One end is broken, but the other end and the edges of the long sides are preserved. The panel is decoratively divided into a framed section and an open field with inlaid linear decoration. One side of the molded frame is egg-and-dart, done in higher relief than the rest of the panel. On the other side and the interior portion of the frame is lesbian cymatium with a raised bevel on the exterior edge. The remains of guidelines, as with 1992.317, 1992.319, and 1992.321, can be seen extending away from the frame into the field. The inlaid decoration, where it survives, is currently dark brown in color and is better preserved within the frame than in the other section. Within the frame, the decoration is a curved line that splits into two curled ends, perhaps representing vines; in the other section of the panel is a large diamond shape, with an equal-armed cross in the middle and smaller diamonds drawn within the two lateral corners. A hooked line emerges out of each side of the large diamond. This panel may be from the same piece of furniture as 1992.319 and 1992.321.
These fragmentary panels would have been placed in a decorative band around the sides of a Roman couch (kline) or table. Based on similarities in decoration and method of manufacture, they may all have been created in a single workshop or by one craftsman. The molded frames are the same on five of the six objects, while the sixth is unfinished.
A first-century CE panel very similar to two of Harvard’s panels (1992.316 and 1992.320) was among the large hoard of bronzes found in the excavations of the Basilica of Bavay, France, in 1969 (1). The burial of the hoard is dated to the fourth century CE, but the makeup of the hoard (statuettes, instrumenta, and scraps) as well as the presence of earlier items, such as the Bavay furniture panel and a Hellenistic Eros, indicates that the items were assembled from many sources and were perhaps going to be melted down (2).
The decoration of grape vines, leaves, and clusters, alluding to wine, are seen on two of the panels (1992.316 and 1992.320) and would have been appropriate decoration for Roman couches, which often bore images of Dionysus and his entourage (3). The couches were used for dining or sleeping, a motif often referenced in Dionysiac imagery.
1. S. Boucher and H. Oggiano-Bitar, Le trésor des bronzes de Bavay, Revue du Nord 3 (Lille, 1993) 67, no. 27 (inv. no. 69 Br 27). Similar panels are also in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; see J. W. Hayes, Greek, Roman, and Related Metalware in the Royal Ontario Museum: A Catalogue (Toronto, 1984) 175-79, nos. 287-96. Other examples and color reconstructions can be seen in L. Pirzio Biroli Stefanelli, ed., Il bronzo dei Romani: Arredo e suppellettile (Rome, 1990) 262-65, nos. 26 and 29-36, figs. 119-44, 245, and 247.
2. Boucher and Oggiano-Bitar 1993 (supra 1) 12-13
3. Compare 1987.130, a fulcrum attachment for a couch.
Lisa M. Anderson