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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Intarsia Panel
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Intarsia Furniture Panel
Work Type
second half 1st century BCE-first half 1st century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Roman Republican period, Late, to Early Imperial
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Copper alloy
Cast, lost-wax process
17.6 x 3.5 cm (6 15/16 x 1 3/8 in.)
Technical Details

Technical Observations: The patina of the panels is green. In the case of 1992.321, the patina is dark green. Raised corrosion products and burial accretions are present at areas of the back surfaces. Inlay metal is red.

The surfaces are in very good condition, although the small areas of inlay are lost. Slight planar distortions are present in all of the panels. The brittle fractures at one end of each piece appear old, probably dating prior to burial.

Section 1992.317 is unfinished at the edges, where the others have leaf patterns. This panel shows how the general contours of the leaf decorations were incised directly in the wax model prior to casting the bronze. After casting, a small punch was used to mark off even intervals related to the elements of the leaf patterns. The leaf elements were then punched into the metal with both flat and elongated punch tools (see detail images for 1992.316 and 1992.320). The copper alloy inlay, which presumably was different in color, was hammered into incised lines cut with a small straight chisel. The back surfaces of each panel have coarse diagonal scrape marks related to cleaning and smoothing the surfaces after casting. A 6-mm width down one long and one short edge at the back of each panel was scraped further, obscuring the coarse diagonal marks. Green and gray corrosion products along these edges appear to be a form of solder, presumably lead based, which may have assisted in securing the panels.

Four of the panels, 1992.317, 1992.318, 1992.319, and 1992.321, were examined to see if there are any joins at the breaks. None of these fragments join to one another.

Henry Lie (submitted 2002)


Recorded Ownership History
[Sotheby’s, New York, June 25, 1992, lot 329], sold; to Harvard University Art Museums, 1992.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, David M. Robinson Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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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

Publication History

  • Anna-Maria Cannatella, Within the Atrium: A Context for Roman Daily Life, exh. cat., J. S. McCarthy Printers (Augusta, ME, 1997), no. 12.
  • Susanne Ebbinghaus, ed., Ancient Bronzes through a Modern Lens: Introductory Essays on the Study of Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes, Harvard Art Museum/Yale University Press (Cambridge, MA, 2014), p. 95

Exhibition History

  • Within the Atrium: A Context for Roman Daily Life, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, 04/01/1997 - 06/08/1997

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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