Dog Chasing Small Animal Through Foliage
6 x 18.25 x 2.5 inches (15.2 x 46.4 x 6.4 cm)
Probably from Egypt 200-500 CE
Picker Art Gallery, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY
This relief fragment depicts two animals running along an undulating vine scroll. The animal on the left appears to be chasing the one on the right, which is looking back over its shoulder, a theme that appears on many reliefs in the collection. The pursuing animal has smaller features than the other and looks like some kind of canine, deer, or possibly an oryx (see 1966.1.882). It has large eyes, large, floppy ears that are falling back with his forward motion, and an open mouth, suggesting it might be barking at the other animal. The animal being chased has larger features and could be another canine or a different species. Its head is much larger and it has a long, upturned snout. One of its ears leans back but the other is pointed straight up. In contrast to the first animal’s wide eyes and raised eyebrows, this animal’s eyes are narrow and it appears to be sneering or frowning. It is unclear what exactly the relationship is between these two animals and whether they are playmates or possibly predator and prey.
The fragment has a very symmetrical composition, and it is uncertain whether its size is a result of quarrying practices at the time of its creation or if it was broken during the relief’s excavation or later on by a dealer or other party hoping to increase the object's value with a more complete composition. Along the left edge there is what looks like the remains of an outstretched front leg, similar to those in the other two animals. There is also raised material there that could have been the body of a third animal, but it is too damaged to be certain.
Throughout the piece the vine scroll regulates the composition, winding between the two animals in a wave shape. Just after the crest of the curve the vine splits to hold two round berries with trapezoidal tails, which closely match common Late Antique representations of pomegranates. The vine continues from beneath the berries with two leaves that curve outwards, and then two triangular elements, possibly thorns.
The front surface of the relief curves slightly, becoming thinner towards the bottom, possibly to accommodate a view from below. This suggests that it might have been a wall molding or some kind of decoration to be displayed from a height. The entire composition is framed by a raised border along the top. Aside from some wear on the shorter side edges and a small area in the middle of the top edge, the piece is in good condition.
The subject of animals chasing one another appears multiple times in the collection, most notably in relief 1982.64. The animals, vine scrolls, and overall compositions in these two pieces are similar. Also interesting is the similarity of the backsides of these two pieces, which are very smooth and show thin parallel lines characteristic of sedimentary rock. This may suggest that they were made or mounted in a similar way. Although these similarities are striking, the differences in style and detail of the two pieces make it clear that they were carved by different hands and are almost certainly not from the same relief.
Stephanie Hamilton '13 is an Art History and Architectural Studies major and Middle Eastern Studies minor at Colgate University.