300 AD to 500 AD
17″ (43.2cm) high x 10.75″ (27.3cm) wide
The term “Copt” originally referred to the native Egyptians, as opposed to the Greek or Arab invaders. While later “Copt” became a religious designation referring to Christian Egyptians, the Coptic period is defined as the first millennium of the Christian era, when Christianity thrived in Egypt. Ideally situation at the join of three continents, Coptic artists drew inspiration from the many influences: the forms and motifs of ancient Egypt, classical and Hellenistic Greece and Rome, Near Eastern art; and contemporary life in the Nile Valley. Although Coptic art is generally associated with Christianity, many of its motifs are distinctly non-Christian, such as Bacchanal scenes, pastoral compositions inspired by classical poetry, and groups of nereids and maenads frequently represented on textiles. The style of Coptic art evolved from the late antique art of Egypt, retaining Greek and Roman influences. Economic conditions doubtless played a major role in the emergence of a freer, more popular style of art; the lack of an extensive patronage system is evident in many aspects of Coptic art, the emphasis on more personal, less monumental art, the avoidance of costly materials, and the dearth of skilled craftsmen with extensive training among them. The stylistic tendencies of Coptic art move away from a naturalistic rendering of the human form and features. Outline and detail are simplified, and the number of motifs is limited.
This limestone panel depicts a seated man framed by a thick rectangular border. Likely, this panel would have fit into a niche inside of an early church. The man sits with one leg up and one leg laying flat. He holds two objects in his hand: on the right, it appears to be a bird of some sorts, on the left, he seems to hold a bundle of grapes or a sack that features such a texture. On a religious level, the bird might symbolize the holy spirit while the grapes could stand for wine, thus indirectly suggesting the blood of Christ. The man wears a tunic and a necklace featuring a large central circular pendant. His facial features are diminutive, save for his large almond-shaped eyes. The stylization of the carving reveals the influence of Greek and Roman art on the Copts. However, it is not the refined works of the Classical and Hellenistic era this work seems to emulate, but the rigid forms of the Archaic era instead.