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Friday, July 24, 2020

Achilles and Briseis a popular motif in late Roman and early Byzantine art

This ivory/bone relief is part of a larger plaque that illustrated a scene from the life cycle of the Greek hero Achilles from the Iliad. What remains is a composition of 4 figures, two females (one holding her left hand to her face in a gesture of concern, the other kneeling at her feet offering a stringed instrument—the lyre of Achilles) and two males (one older with balding head and beard, the other younger who is seen from behind) from the left side of the fuller scene, now lost. The use of the architectural setting (a colonnade with fluted columns) and the figure of the draped and worried woman suggests that this a scene from the life cycle of Achilles.The closest composition is found on a large silver luxury plate found in France (now in the Cabinet des Médailles, Paris) seems to be a combination of the leading away of Briseis, the embassy of Phoenix, and the death of Patroclus.

The plaque was probably part of a larger group of decorated bone panels that were attached to a wooden chest or box, a luxury item favored in the late Roman and early Byzantine periods. It is unusual in that it represents a narrative scene as most of the surviving plaques are more ornamental. A number of grand silver display plates survive from this period with scenes from the life of Achilles which attest to the popularity of these myths for all range of luxury objects. - Museum of Fine Arts Boston


Ivory or bone plaque with partial scene of Briseis and Achilles, Late Roman or early Byzantine Period, 4th-5th century CE courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

So-called Bouclier de Scipion (“Scipion's shield”) or Plat d'Achille (“Achilles' plate”) Patroclus leads Briseis outside the tent where Achilles is stting, Silver missorium (one of the biggest known), end 4th or beginning of 5th century CE, originally found in the Rhône near Avignon in 1656 and offered to king Louis XIV in 1697, now at the Cabinet des  Médailles in Paris.  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marsyas 


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