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A ROMAN SILVER BOWL CIRCA 3RD CENTURY A.D. The shallow show-plate with a rounded rim, hammered and finely detailed by incision and punching with a sacrifice scene in relief, with a youthful priest wearing a flowing sleeveless tunic and a mantle rolled around his waist and draped over his left arm, a laurel wreath in his full curly locks, cradling pomegranates and other fruit in the crook of his left arm, gripping a goat by its horn, leading it toward a flaming hexagonal altar, embellished with scrolling dots on the upper surface and base, a wreath around its center, the altar situated at the base of the steps of a temple to Minerva, the cult statue of the goddess, based on the Athena Parthenos, at the top of the steps between spiral-fluted Corinthian columns, the cornice and pediment bordered in ovolo, the armed goddess with a spear in her right hand, her shield in her left, with nimbate Helios driving his quadriga above, emerging from the clouds, the horses rearing, with two facing out to the sides, two facing in, the god with his right arm raised, his wind-swept mantle unfurled behind, an orb in his lowered right hand, a large tree along the left side, a Greek inscription to the right of Helios, reading: "Nonnos, priest, worshipper of Pallas, made an offering" 6½ in. (16.5 cm.) diameter 5.405 oz (168.1 g)
Provenance
Private Collection, Germany.
Acquired by the current owner in 1994.
Sale Room Notice
Please note the additional provenance information as told my Mr. Bernd Lehmann:
"The silver Bowl is out of the Behrens Collection an old Bremer seafarer family. Johannes Behrens (grandfather of Mr. Lehmanns wife) lived from 1874 to 1947 in Bremen. From 1908 to 1939 Mr. Johannes Behrens was a seaman and 1st officer and was sailing routes in the Mediterranean to South America. He left our family a Collection of various Art Objects which date back to ancient times."
A notarized letter with a photograph of this piece will be provided to the purchaser after the sale.

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G. Max Bernheimer
G. Max Bernheimer

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Lot Essay

Show-plates or picture-dishes, with figured scenes filling the entire field, are part of a tradition that goes back to the 1st century A.D. See, for example, the so-called Aquileia patera in Vienna, pl. 44A in Strong, Greek and Roman Gold and Silver Plate. The type gained in popularity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries and its production continued into the Byzantine period. As Oliver informs (Silver for the Gods: 800 Years of Greek and Roman Silver, pp. 148-149), examples of ancient silver that survive from the 2nd and 3rd centuries are far rarer than that which was preserved in the 1st century by Vesuvius. Although late 3rd century silver has been found in organized burials as protection from encroaching barbarians in parts of central Europe.
The vocabulary of the inscription on this bowl helps to date it to the 3rd century. The noun \Kproskunhth\ks (worshipper) is not classical and is primarily known through Christian sources, including the Gospel of John (4:23). The word is used regularly by early Christian authors. In the late 2nd-early 3rd century, Clement of Alexandria (Protrepticus 52, 1: 96, 4; 97, 3) uses the word to describe pagan "worshippers of stones" in contrast to "worshippers of the good (i.e. Christians)."
The distinctly practical pagan nature of the subject matter indicates that this must be a work created before the 4th century. Although several pagan subjects are illustrated on silver and other wares from the Late Antique and Byzantine periods, all or most illustrate paideia, or the ancient vocabulary, rather than contemporary pagan practice as evinced here. For an analysis of 4th-5th century "pagan revival" silver in its context as paideia of tradition, pagan lore, and secularization of myth, see p. 141ff. in Leader-Newby, Silver and Society in Late Antiquity.

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