This type of box, a semicylindrical trough closed by a flat, slightly tapering, sliding lid, survives in only a handful of examples, two of them at Dumbarton Oaks. Because there are three examples with images of Asklepios, the Greek god of healing, and his daughter Hygeia, scholars believe that they carried medicines.
The imagery on the Dumbarton Oaks medicine box is idiosyncratic. The curved body of the box bears figures of Dionysos flanked by a Maenad and a Satyr. Dionysos’s ancient association with death and resurrection would explain his appearance in a medicinal context. The figure on the lid is harder to explain. The fact that she holds a cornucopia in her left hand suggests that she is a tyche (“good fortune”), a female deity linked to the prosperity of a given city. The rudder she holds in her right hand indicates that she represents a river city. The layered nature of her identity emerges from the winged Eros (Cupid)--hovering over her shoulder with a folding mirror, the attribute of Aphrodite--and the association with the Egyptian goddess Isis through her crown decorated with feathers and the horns of a cow. The confluence of the Egyptian goddess Isis with the Tyche of a river city suggests thatt the Tyche, or personification of a city, represents Alexandria. After the time of Alexander such syncretism, the amalgamation of foreign and domestic deities into hybrids, became accepted practice. Egypt, with its rich ancient pantheon, overlaid first by Greek, and then by Roman religion, was fertile soil for such creative theology.
- J. Hanson
J. O. Westwood, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Fictile Ivories in the South Kensington Museum: With an Account of the Continental Collections of Classical and Mediaeval Ivories (London, 1876), 10, no. 34-35.
A. T. F. Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, trans. C.A.M. Fennell (Cambridge, 1882), 620, no. 1.
H. Graeven, "Die thonerne Sparbüchse im Altertum," Jahrbuch des Kaiserlich Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 16 (1901): 187-88, fig. 33.
C. H. Smith and C. A. Hutton, Catalogue of the Art Collection, Vol. 2: Catalogue of the Antiquities (Greek, Etruscan and Roman) in the Collection of the Late Wyndham Francis Cook, Esqre. (London, 1908), 97-98, no. 1, pl. 22.
"Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection--Acquisitions December 1, 1946-November 1, 1947," Bulletin of the Fogg Museum of Art 10.6 (1947): 219-39, esp. 229.
Walters Art Gallery, Early Christian and Byzantine Art, ed. D.E. Miner, exh. cat., Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore, 1947), 40, no. 104, pl. 15.
K. Weitzmann, "Byzantine Art and Scholarship in America," American Journal of Archaeology 51 (1947): 394-418, esp. 403, pl. 101-2.
W. F. Volbach, Elfenbeinarbeiten der Spätantike und des frühen Mittelalters, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum zu Mainz. Katalog 7, 2nd ed. (Mainz, 1952), no. 83, pl. 27.
———, "Frühmittelalterliche Elfenbeinarbaiten in der Schweiz," in Frühmittelalterliche Kunst in den Alpenländern, Akten zum III. Kongress für Frühmittelalterlicherforschungen, 9-14 September, 1951 ed. L. Birchler (Olten, Switzerland, 1954), 99-106, esp. 100, fig. 42-43.
The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 104, 113, no. 224.
J. Beckwith, Coptic Sculpture, 300-1300 (London, 1963), 11, fig. 19-21.
K. Wessel, Koptische Kunst: die Spätantike in Ägypten (Recklinghausen, 1963), 122, 125-26, fig. 88.
Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 77, no. 273.
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), 6, fig. 23.
K. Weitzmann, Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Vol. 3, Ivories and Steatites (Washington, D.C., 1972), 19-21, no. 9, pl. 8-10, colorpl. 1.
A. Badawy, Coptic Art and Archaeology: the Art of the Christian Egyptians from the Late Antique to the Middle Ages (Cambridge, Mass., 1978), 122-123, 160.
K. Weitzmann, ed., Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1979), 142-43, no. 122.
A. Cutler, The Craft of Ivory: Sources, Techniques, and Uses in the Mediterranean World, A.D. 200-1400 (Publications / Dumbarton Oaks, Byzantine Collection 8), (Washington, D.C., 1985), 1, 7, 8, 26, 40-41, 52, figs. 4-5, 11, 25a, b, c.
C. L. Connor, The Color of Ivory : Polychromy on Byzantine Ivories, (Princeton, 1998), 86, no. 53.
G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 52, pl. p. 53.