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Work Pyxis decorated with a horseman, and real and imaginary animals on two levels

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Etruscan Art (9th-1st centuries BC)

Pyxide ornée d'une figure de cavalier et d'animaux réels et fantastiques disposés sur deux registres

© 2004 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Etruscan Art (9th-1st centuries BC)

Astier Marie-Bénédicte

The decoration of this small truncated box is strongly inspired by the Orientalizing repertoire of the Mediterranean region during the seventh century BC. The piece was carved in a section of elephant's tusk and shows the close contact at the time among Etruria, Greece, and the Near East. The sides are decorated on two levels with a horseman in the middle of rows of real and imaginary animals.

An ivory pyxis

This small truncated box (a pyxis) was carved in a length of elephant's tusk. The base is missing but the ivory tenons that held it can still be seen in the lower edge. The sides are decorated with figures in bas-relief (a horseman in the middle of friezes of passing animals) on two levels bordered by cable fillet between thin plain fillets. The object is from Fonte Rotella near Chiusi, Italy. Generally attributed to a workshop in northern Etruria, it dates from the end of the Orientalizing period when the economic prosperity of the Etruscans meant that they could indulge in oriental luxury and produce refined objects in rare, precious materials such as gold, silver, and ivory, which were often imported.

Use of the Orientalizing repertoire

The pyxis was very probably inspired by similar objects made in the Near East. The decoration is evidence of close contact among Etruria, Greece, and the Near East. The craftsman drew heavily on the Orientalizing repertoire, making free use of the plant motifs and real and imaginary animals that were a feature of Greco-Oriental objects made in the seventh century BC and were widespread in the Mediterranean region. Wild animals, such as does, deer, and big cats mingle with hybrid monsters - female sphinxes with human heads and winged griffins - in a slow procession dotted with bushes with leaves bent downwards. A small horseman on an excessively large horse moves forward in the lower band of decoration, followed by a lion with a human leg in its mouth. The heraldic grouping of the figures, the arrangement of the animals in a line and that of the female sphinxes facing each other on either side of a tree are constants in Greco-Oriental art. The motif of a "lion devouring a human limb" is also of Eastern origin.


Brown W. L., The Etruscan Lion, Oxford, 1960, p. 33, n 23, pl. 14 A, 1-2.
Huls Y., Ivoires d'Etrurie, Etudes de Philologie, d'Archéologie et d'Histoire anciennes, IV, Bruxelles, 1957, p. 61-62, n 60, pl. 36.
Ducati P., Storia dell'arte etrusca, Firenze, 1927, p. 176, pl. 59, fig. 179.
Collignon M., "Situla d'ivoire provenant de Chiusi", Monuments et Mémoires. Fondation Piot 9, 1902, p. 5-13, fig. 1.

Technical description

  • Pyxide ornée d'une figure de cavalier et d'animaux réels et fantastiques disposés sur deux registres

    Fin du VIIe siècle - début du VIe siècle avant J.-C.

    Provenance : Chiusi, Fonte Rotella

    Production : Étrurie septentrionale

  • Ivoire

    H.: 8,10 cm. ; D.: 7,40 cm.

  • Collection A. Castellani, puis M. BoyAcquisition 1900 , 1900

    MND 409

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Ground floor
    Etruria II
    Room 421
    Vitrine 3 : Bijoux : VIIe - VIe siècle avant J.-C.

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