Terracotta 'Campana' relief with a Nilotic scene

Terracotta Campana relief

Height: 47.500 cm
Width: 60.000 cm
Thickness: 3.500 cm

Townley Collection

GR 1805.7-3.317 (Terracotta D 633)

This relief panel represents a lighthearted Roman interpretation of an Egyptian scene. The panel is divided in two as if the scene were witnessed through an arcade, though the scenes should probably be read continuously, starting from the fluted pilaster on the left. In the upper left panel is a hut thatched with reeds; a stork is perched on its roof, and another stork struts on a low wall to the left. Below, a crocodile crouches perilously on a branch over turbulent waters. At the base of the panel, beneath a lotus with curling stem, is a baying hippopotamus.

The scene continues to the right, with a second crocodile on a sandbank. Above, two men pole and paddle a boat. The man wielding the paddle on the left has shaggy hair, a long caricatured nose, and exaggerated musculature. The older man with the pole to the right was intended as a pygmy, naked and again with exaggerated musculature. They sail past a small building, probably a shrine.

The plaque is one of a number decorated with very similar scenes: On two reliefs (now in Copenhagen and Leiden) the fence to the left of the round hut has been transformed into a bed, on which reclines a woman, partially draped with her buttocks exposed and hair tumbling on her shoulders, looking at a statuette of Priapus.

Though dwarfs and pygmies appear associated with Egypt in classical and Hellenistic Greek art, the Campana panels represent a lighthearted Roman interpretation of an Egyptian scene, the elements of mockery and sexual titillation perhaps recalling the defeat of Cleopatra.