Height: 30.100 cm
Width: 11.300 cm
Prehistory and Europe
Carved ivory leaf from a diptych
Roman, around AD 402
The apotheosis of a great orator
This splendid leaf is one of the last great commissions of pagan art in Rome before the triumph of Christianity. The scroll at the top bears a monogram probably reading 'SYMMACHORUM', a reference to one of the leading families in Rome. The Symmachi family probably commissioned this ivory panel to commemorate Quintus Aurelius Symmachus (about 340-402), the greatest orator of his day, a prominent pagan and opponent of Christianity.
The ivory vividly depicts three different events. At the centre-right a mature bearded man in a senatorial toga sits beneath a gabled roof supported on columns. This ornate structure is borne on a wheeled carriage drawn by four elephants with their riders, holding prods and elephant-rattles. The figure is possibly intended to represent Q. Aurelius Symmachus himself, who served in the highest public offices of pro-consul and consul.
The next scene
shows his death, symbolized by a draped funeral pyre surmounted by
a quadriga (four-horsed
chariot). Two eagles, representing the soul, fly upwards from the
pyre. On the upper section the famous man is carried into heaven by
winged figures who
D. Buckton (ed.), Byzantium: treasures of Byzant (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)