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Pyxis with Moses Receiving the Law and Daniel in the Lions' Den

Early Byzantine
end of 5th century - 6th century
8.4 cm x 11.5 cm (3 5/16 in. x 4 1/2 in.)
ivory and polychromy

On view


Additional Images
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Additional Image Detail, angel
Detail, angel
Additional Image Detail, Baal
Detail, Baal
Additional Image Detail, Daniel among the Lions
Detail, Daniel among the Lions
Additional Image Detail, Daniel among the Lions: Angel
Detail, Daniel among the Lions: Angel
Additional Image Detail, eagle
Detail, eagle
Additional Image Detail, head of an angel
Detail, head of an angel
Additional Image Detail, Moses Receiving the Law
Detail, Moses Receiving the Law
Additional Image Detail, Moses Receiving the Law: Israelites
Detail, Moses Receiving the Law: Israelites
Additional Image Full view, Daniel scene
Full view, Daniel scene

A pyxis is a cylindrical box appropriate for the safekeeping of small items. The exact nature of the contents are unknown. Suggestions include jewelry, incense perfume, or eucharistic bread. More than seventy pyxides of ivory, worked from a cross section of an elephant’s tusk and manufactured mainly between the fourth and the sixth century, are preserved in museums and collections. They share the same basic design, a figurative frieze composed usually of two scenes carved in shallow relief. One-third present motifs of classical mythology, while the majority depict New and Old Testament scenes.

The Dumbarton Oaks pyxis, which belongs to the latter group, depicts Moses receiving the law and Daniel in the lion’s den. A number of details are unique, such as the ecstatic pose of one of the Israelites accompanying Moses, who has thrown himself to the ground. The dramatic movement is balanced by almost identical companions in the background with the same raised hands and scepters held at the same angle. In the Daniel scene, the dynamic pose of the prophet and the movement of the angels are counterbalanced by the static symmetry of the towers and the heraldic pair of lions flanking the protagonist.

Standard features of pyxides are metal locks and hinged ivory lids—the wooden lid of this pyxis is a medieval replacement—riveted to the ivory walls that provided limited security, protecting the valuables against theft. The dating is based on stylistic comparisons with related ivory carvings. More difficult is the localization of the production centers for these pyxides, which were clearly a trademark of ivory craftsmanship in early Byzantium.
G. Bühl

L. Venturi, "Opere d'Arte a Moggio e a San Pietro di Zuglio," L'Arte 14 (1911): 469-78, fig. 1-3.

A. Goldschmidt, "Exhibition of the Art of the Dark Ages at the Worcester Art Museum," Parnassus 9 (1937): 29-30, esp. 29.

The Dark Ages; Loan Exhibition of Pagan and Christian Art in the Latin West and Byzantine East, exh. cat., Worcester Art Museum, February 20-March 21, 1937 (Worcester, Mass., 1937), 30, no. 57, fig. 57.

C. R. Morey, "Art of the Dark Ages: A Unique Show. The First American Early Christian-Byzantine Exhibition at Worcester," Art News 35.21 (1937): 9-16, 24., esp. 15, fig. 10.

———, "The Early Christian Ivories of the Eastern Empire," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 1 (1941): 41-60, esp. 45-55, figs. 1, 2.

Pagan and Christian Egypt; Egyptian Art from the First to the Tenth Century A.D, exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum, January 23-March 9, 1941 (Brooklyn, 1941), 36, no. 105, pl. 105.

Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum 10.4 (Dec. 1945): 108, fig. p. 114.

The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection of Harvard University, Handbook of the Collection (Washington, D.C., 1946), 76, no. 153, fig. p. 82.

"Reawakening at Dumbarton Oaks: The Golden Glories of the Byzantine and Early Christian Worlds," Art News 45.10.1 (1946): 15-19; 57-59, esp. 19,57, fig. V.

W. F. Volbach, Elfenbeinarbeiten der Spätantike und des frühen Mittelalters (Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum zu Mainz. Katalog 7, 2. Aufl.), (Mainz, 1952), no. 168, pl. 54.

K. Wessel, "Studien zur oströmischen Elfenbeinskulptur," Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Universität Greifswald. Gesellschafts- und sprachwissenschaftliche Reihe 2-3 (1952-54): 63-94 (Reihe 2), 1-36 (Reihe 3).

The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 104, no. 227, fig. p. 117.

W. F. Volbach and M. Hirmer, Early Christian Art (New York, 1962), no. 236.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 78-79, no. 277.

K. Weitzmann, Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Vol. 3, Ivories and Steatites (Washington, D.C., 1972), 31-36, no. 18, pls. 16, 17.

A. Badawy, Coptic Art and Archaeology: The Art of the Christian Egyptians from the Late Antique to the Middle Ages (Cambridge, Mass., 1978), 157, fig. p. 158.

Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century, ed. K. Weitzmann, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nov. 19, 1977-Feb. 12, 1978 (New York, 1979), 469-470, no. 421.

W. Loerke, "'Real Presence' in Early Christian Art," in Monasticism and the Arts, ed. T. Verdon with assistance of J. Dally (Syracuse, 1984), 32-51, esp. 33, fig. 1.3.

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), 13, fig. 13.

C. L. Connor, The Color of Ivory : Polychromy on Byzantine Ivories, (Princeton, 1998), 85, no. 48.

R. Sörries, Daniel in der Löwengrube: zur Gesetzmässigkeit frühchristlicher Ikonographie (Wiesbaden, 2005).

G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 70, pl. p. 71.

A. Thum, Schutzengel: 1200 Jahre Bildgeschichte zwischen Devotion und Didaktik, 1. Aufl. ed. (Regensburg, 2014), 20, fig. 2.

Exhibition History
Worcester, Mass., Worcester Art Museum, "Art of the Dark Ages," Feb. 19 - Mar. 29, 1937.

Brooklyn, N.Y., Brooklyn Museum, "Pagan and Christian Egypt," Jan. 23 - Mar. 9, 1941.

Cambridge, Mass., Fogg Art Museum, "A Selection of Ivories, Bronzes, Metalwork and Other Objects from the Dumbarton Oaks Collection," Nov. 15 - Dec. 31, 1945.

New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century," Nov. 19, 1977 - Feb. 12, 1978.

Washington, D.C., Dumbarton Oaks, "The Craft of Ivory," Oct. 22, 1985 - Jan. 6, 1986.

Acquisition History
Treasury of the Abbey Church of Moggio (Udine), in the Veneto, Italy.

Purchased from Imbert, Paris, 1936, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss.

Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., 1936-1940.

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

Daniel | Eagles | Hand of God | Hero|Heroes | Idols | Moses | Old Testament | Orants | Scrolls | Serpents | Tunics