Height: 10.500 cm
Bequeathed by Sir A.W. Franks
Room 41: Europe AD 300-1100
Early Byzantine, 6th century
Possibly from Egypt
Carved with pastoral scenes
The subject matter and some of the details, such as the cymbals, recall classical imagery of pastoral and Dionysiac celebrations. However, the figures are discreetly and realistically clothed in tunics and leggings. The curious depiction of the thatched hut resembles those in the earliest illuminated manuscripts, while the stylization of the hair and the crossed legs of the goatherds signal a move toward the conventions of medieval art.
It is likely that the pyxis belongs in the Early Byzantine tradition of ivory containers. The British Museum has other examples: the pyxis with St Menas is another example from the same period, and the pyxis with the Healing of the Demonaic, a unique Carolingian version of the same type of vessel.
O.M. Dalton, Catalogue of the ivory carving (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1909)
W.F. Volbach, Elfenbeinarbeiten der Spätanti (Mainz, 1976)