Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
The top and bottom of this rectangular intarsia panel are decorated with a molded frame, while the interior and preserved end bear inlaid and silver wire decoration of grape vines, clusters, leaves, stylized flowers, and triangles. 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 inlaid decoration on the middle section of the panel is currently dark brown in color. It consists of a thick wavy vine, with thinner voluted tendrils, and broad grape leaves branching off. The end of the vine is surrounded by looped tendrils or fillets, as on 1992.319. The grape clusters are rendered schematically by dots in a triangular shape. Some areas of the inlay have been lost, particularly from the leaves, one grape, and one volute. The unframed portion is elaborately decorated with inlaid flowers and linear patterns. A thick, rectangular border of inlay surrounds the section; similar inlay divides the interior of the rectangle into two diamonds and two half diamonds, with four smaller triangles in the corners of this section. In each of the complete diamonds is a flower, consisting of a circle surrounded by 12 petals; in each half diamond, there are five petals around a semicircle, creating a half flower. Every other petal is missing from the floral elements: it is possible that the petals were inlaid with two different materials or using two different techniques. In each of the four corners there is a central triangle with the dark inlay preserved, which is surrounded by a triangular inlay of silver wire. This panel is probably from the same piece of furniture as 1992.316.
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