Rearing Beast in Foliage
4.75 x 11.75 x 9.13 inches
Probably from Egypt 200-500 CE
Picker Art Gallery
Colgate University, Hamilton, NY

The central focus of this limestone relief is a four-legged beast rearing on its hind legs in front of a sprig of foliage, likely acanthus. The shape of the animal’s body, paws, and detailed mane resemble that of a lion, however its un-leonine, more beak shaped snout suggests that the animal could also be a griffin, despite the absence of wings. To the left of the beast is the beginning of a vine scroll motif that has been cut off by breakage, probably from the time of the fragment’s extraction from its original home, or by a dealer or other party hoping to increase the object’s value with a more complete composition. In its present form, the relief ‘s square shape and centralized figure creates a clean, focused composition. The circular vine and acanthus leaves are all found in other reliefs in the Mayer Collection at the Picker and were popular decorative motifs during late antiquity in Egypt, most often used in the decorative architectural elements of tombs.

The beast stands atop a geometric architectural form that is difficult to identify as more than a decorative border due to the nature of the relief’s breakage. What remains forms the corner of a rectangular frame, indicating this particular relief was likely only part of a larger design extending to the left and below. However, the wholly formed acanthus leaves on the fragment’s right side, as well the object’s angled shape suggest that this piece marked the end of an architectural frieze, or at least was meant to be seen from two different sides. Reliefs found at the late antique Egyptian sites of Hermopolis Magna and Oxyrhynchus of a similar shape and composition served as niche decorations, offering another alternative for this particular piece’s original use. Whatever its use, the curved shape of the relief enhances the overall dynamism of the composition, as the fragment is angled in such a way that it appears that the beast is leaping off the rectangular platform into the real space of the viewer.

Annie Johnson '12 is an Art History and English major at Colgate University.