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Pilgrim Flask with Scenes of St. Menas
Byzantine period, Early
9.4 x 6.9 x 2.3 cm (3 11/16 x 2 11/16 x 7/8 in.)
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Transfer from the Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection, Department of the Classics, Harvard University
Department of Ancient and Byzantine Art & Numismatics,
Both sides of this terracotta ampulla (pilgrim flask) are decorated with the same scene in relief: Saint Menas in prayer, flanked by two kneeling camels within a circular border of dots or studs. The saint stands frontally, arms held open; the long folds of his cloak are visible as vertical lines on either side of his body; there may be crosses depicted in the space on either side of his head. The body of the flask was created with a two-piece mold; the handles were made separately and attached before firing. The relief is worn and difficult to read; there is some discoloration on the vessel, particularly on the raised details.
Flasks bearing images of Saint Menas are not uncommon in Egypt. Menas was a Roman soldier who was martyred; veneration of him as a saint centered on an oasis near Alexandria. On better-preserved ampullae bearing the same scene, the details of Menas' clothing (tunic, boots, and cloak, perhaps in the style of the later Roman military) are much clearer; the border type varies between the dot/stud motif and chevrons. Some examples bear inscriptions or depictions of crosses above the saint's arms.
[C. Dikran Kelekian, Ancient Arts, New York, 1983] sold; to The Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection, Department of the Classics, Harvard University (1983-2012), transfer; to the Harvard Art Museums, 2012.