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Work Pyxis or pyx
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)
Pyxis or pyx
© Musée du Louvre/C. Larrieu
Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)
This fragmentary piece is a pyxis or pyx, a cylindrical box designed to hold the consecrated host. The decorations on such boxes are extremely varied. On the left side of this one is an upright mummy-like figure, a very common image in Christian art in Egypt.
A valuable item, probably liturgical in purpose
Of the relatively few ivory objects from the Coptic period, most are found in poor condition. These small objects traveled widely, so disseminating new techniques and imagery; this peripatetic existence means it is impossible to pinpoint their origins with any accuracy, however. Much of this pyxis is missing. Only two scenes are still partially visible of the decoration that originally covered the whole of the circular box. The cover is missing. The wealth of the decoration, which illustrates scenes from the New Testament, the precious material used and the small size of the box together indicate that it was used to hold consecrated hosts.
The left-hand section contains a tall figure wearing a long tunic. Unfortunately the face is damaged. The figure is surrounded by holes, suggesting that a metal decoration was originally attached to the box. In his left hand he holds a book consisting of two binding boards closed by a cord. Is he one of the Evangelist?
The raising from the dead of Lazarus
The scene shown on the right-hand section of the box is the familiar one of the raising from the dead of Jesus's friend Lazarus. Moved by the pleas of Lazarus's sisters, Martha and Mary, Jesus went to his tomb and miraculously summoned him forth. This is probably the scene portrayed on this pyxis. Lazarus is generally depicted standing, like an Egyptian mummy. He is youthful in appearance and small in stature (in comparison with the figure on the left). He is still in his tomb, symbolized by the entrance flanked by two cable columns supporting an arch. Jesus was always depicted in this scene, stands to the right and pointing his finger toward the tomb to call forth Lazarus. This part of the scene is missing, as is almost certainly one of the two sisters.
This scene corresponds perfectly to the belief that they too would be raised from the dead shared by early Christians.
BibliographyBénazeth D., "La sculpture copte", Dossiers d'archéologie 226, sept 1997, p. 27.
Pyxis or pyx
6th century AD
Sculpture, elephant ivory
H. 10. 4 cm; W. 7. 9 cm
Lower ground floor
Gallery of Coptic art
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