Bronze Vessel with Incised Decoration

SKU LM.63
Circa

900 BC to 500 BC

Dimensions

4.5″ (11.4cm) high x 3.5″ (8.9cm) wide

Medium

Bronze

Origin

Near East

Gallery Location

UK


 

Bronze conical vessel on flat base, with short flattened rectangular section rim. Minute geometrical motif of square indentations around the base. Encompassed between the slightly projecting rim and a zone of triangular motifs, register of figures in low-relief. The architectural element of single Doric column denotes that the scenes on the column’s right side (thus the viewer’s left) is taking place indoors, in opposition to the scenes occuring on the column’s left side (thus the viewer’s right), which are apparently happening on the outside. The violent battle scene, obviously happening outdoors, is composed by two main characters, both on horses, overpowering a number of opponents. The rider on the extreme is approaching in rapid movement as indicated by the detail of the flowing drapery, holding with his right a rather long spear. A helmeted opponents is already lying dead under the horse’s hoof, while the rider opposite, who is going to sustain the impact of his attack is turning his head in appeal to his companions, probably in vain. One of these is holding a spear and a small round shield but both him and his fellow soldier don’t seem to be showing any signs of movement, while a third person is carrying a wounded fellow soldier with his right hand and a small round shield with his left. The battle scene comes to a conclusion by the segment of another rider, represented in heroic nudity and brandishing a spear in his right hand; having already overrun an opponent who is lying under the horse’s hoofs he is going to deliver a direct blow to the person opposite who is taking cover behind a large round shield. The last person of this section is a figure in helmet and armed by shield and spear, fleeing away. The next segment comprises a biga, with the charioteer holding the reins of the horses and the protagonist receiving what could be interpreted as a gesture of complete surrender by a crouching warrior, as indicated by the spear he is holding and the shield on which he is leaning. The figure of a rider in profile to the right, proceeding the biga and characterised by the detail of the flowing drapery, is to be associated to this same segment of the events, as a person who is leading the triumphal procession of the potentate in the biga. An attractively crafted ten-petal rosette could possibly allude to an Oriental provenance, while filling the space above the horse’s heads. The sequence of the events culminate and finish with an indoors scene, the aftermath of the battle, the formal surrender ceremony perhaps taking place within a palace, where a person seated on a throne and holding a spear is receiving an unarmed figure genuflecting on one knee in the presence of another figure standing behind the throne in attendance and in the standard military apparatus of helmet, shield and spear. A series of five semicircular elements of diverse dimensions interspersed among the figures could be an allusion to the sun, indicating that these scenes took place during various periods of the day and under the direct presence of the sun, an ocular testimony of all the events. All six horses throughout the length of the register are beautifully carved, well proportioned, with long tales and meticulously executed manes and hooves. The vessel, more than anything else seems to be a detailed documentation of ancient warfare. The battle scenes revoke the combat setting of reliefs and statuary of Greek and Roman antiquity, both for the posture of the warriors and the belligerent theatrical gestures they indulge into. The partnership of two male figures associated in battle is an emblematic motif, perpetrated from the time of the Homeric poems with Achilles and Patroclus, the Sacred Band of Thebes and Hephaestion with Alexander the Great. There is no specific cultural or ethnic indication in regards to the weaponry and attire of the warriors. Flowing drapery seems to be the indication of a long, tunic-like garment whereas several figures seem to be bare-chested. The type of pleated skirt worn by some of the combatants on foot could allude to Egyptians and Sumerians, although it could be just the artist’s idea of how to reproduce an “eastern” looking garment. Helmets adhere more or less to a frugally adorned type, which attaches closely to the skull, without bearing any specific designative decoration; the same applies for the generic circular shields; the figure fighting in heroic nudity could be relevant to a completely different concept from the one used during the period of Classical antiquity. The array of figures and horses, though hugely ambitious in concept has been engraved by a rather mediocre artist, as determined by a certain absence of prospective and an undeniable rigidity in the movement of the figures, which have been copied abundantly from similarly-themed scenes, but on a much reduced scale. All the above details may allude towards a provincial workshop of the post-classical Near East. Whether a ceremonial, commemorative or votive object, it still remains a remarkably interesting and intriguing object, both for the aspiration and enthusiasm of condensing such a complex multifigured composition on such a small object as well as for the identification of the incised subject.

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