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Bowl with Dionysiac Procession

Early Byzantine
5th century
30.5 cm (12 in.)

On view


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While the practices of pagan ritual were strictly prohibited by the emperor Theodosius in 392, the early Byzantine interest in classical antiquity did not vanish. On the contrary, the erudite, wealthy aristocrats propagated [promoted or fostered] the continuation and adaptation of mythological subject matter. Hosting elaborate gatherings in private houses, the cultured elite had an opportunity to showcase their paideia, or education, through display. Luxurious domestic items, such as this fifth-century silver bowl, often illustrated a rich repertoire of mythological subject matter. Pagan references, particularly to Dionysos, continued to be of interest, even in a Christianizing society.

The bowl's main frieze features a Dionysiac procession with sixteen figures, including two chariots pulled by paired leopards and one chariot by horses. A youthful Dionysos is seated in a chariot, holding a thyrsos and rhyton, while an old, bearded Dionysos and Ariadne recline in another chariot. In the third chariot is a seated, partially draped woman being fanned by an eros while she shows her up-turned, empty drinking cup to a follower. Also included is the drunken Herakles supported by a figure, only partially seen, and accompanied by a maenad. The fragmentary lower portion features a leafy branch, a head, and two felines jumping symmetrically towards a tower (?) with a pointed roof. The entire program celebrates the rites and marriage of Dionysos. Appropriate to these scenes, the bowl may have been used for grapes or wine by its proud, cultured owner.

- S. Zwirn

H. Peirce and R. Tyler, L'Art Byzantin (Paris, 1932-34), 83, pl. 45.

Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum 10.4 (Dec. 1945): 108.

Walters Art Gallery, Early Christian and Byzantine Art, ed. D.E. Miner, exhibition catalogue, Baltimore Museum of Art, April 25-June 22, 1947(Baltimore, 1947), 82, no. 362, pl. 49.

The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 54, no. 126, pl. p. 62.

M. C. Ross, Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, vol. 1, Metalwork, Ceramics, Glass, Glyptics, Painting (Washington, D.C., 1962), 5-7, no. 6, pl. 6, 7.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 16, no. 57, pl. 57.

R. Ettinghausen, From Byzantium to Sasanian Iran and the Islamic World; Three Modes of Artistic Influence, The L. A. Mayer Memorial Studies in Islamic Art and Archaeology 3 (Leiden, 1972), 4, fig. 11.

G. L. Tillisch, "The Silver Bowl with Dionysiac Scenes at Dumbarton Oaks" (M.A. thesis, George Washington University, 1989).

R. Hobbs, The Mildenhall Treasure: Late Roman Silver Plate from East Anglia (London: British Museum, 2016), 48, plate 68; 53, plate 75.

Exhibition History
Paris, Musee des Arts Décoratifs, "Exposition de l'Art Byzantin," May 28 - July 9, 1931 (not in catalogue).

Baltimore, Baltimore Museum of Art, "Early Christian and Byzantine Art," April 25 - June 22, 1947.

Washington, DC, Freer Gallery of Art & the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, “Ancient and Medieval Metalwork from Dumbarton Oaks,” Dec. 16, 2005 – Apr. 1, 2007.

Acquisition History
Collection of Dr. Burg , Haarlem;

Purchased from M. Glueckselig & Son, New York, by Joseph Brummer, December 4th, 1945.

Purchased from Joseph Brummer, (dealer), New York, by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., August 8th 1947;

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.