Bactrian Cosmetic Palette

SKU LO.1010

100 BC to 300 AD


3.9″ (9.9cm) wide




Central Asia

Gallery Location



Carved out of schist, this cosmetic palette is a marvelous example of the type. In medium relief, a mythological scene has been carved into the surface of the small dish. A hippocampus, the mythical sea creature based on the seahorse, carries a human figure upon its back. The word “hippocampus” comes from the Greek words “hippos” meaning “horse” and “campus” meaning “sea monster.” The male figure riding the back of the hippocampus has been finely modeled as well, particularly the form of his leg. In Greek mythology, Poseidon, the god of the sea, as well as other sea and river deities such as Nereus, and his fifty daughters the Nereids, rode upon the backs of these creatures. Thus it is likely that this figure represents Nereus, the god of the waves. The lip of the rim has also been decorated with the classical motif of the grapevine. The rendition of the scene in this pallete is somewhat reminiscent of its Classical prototype. Indeed the scene expresses a dynamism and spontaneity, alien to its Greek source, but very much present in the art of the region during the first centuries of the Common Era. A Bactrian beauty once ground cosmetic pigment on the surface of this palette before applying them to her face many centuries ago.
For an example of the same type with a similar motif, please see the catalogue to the exhibition: “Afghanistan: une histoire millenaire” Page 107. Editions de la Reunion des musees nationaux, Paris, 2002.

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