Transfigurations of Hellenism: Aspects of Late Antique Art in Egypt, AD 250-700

By László Török | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
IMAGES FOR MORTUARY DISPLAY

1. Sculptors, workshops and modes of representation

1.1. Porphyry sculpture and the workshop at Heracleopolis Magna

In the following we shall discuss fourth- and fifth-century figural and ornamental sculptures in order to gain some insight into the working methods of the sculptors’ workshops at Heracleopolis Magna and Oxyrhynchos. We shall try to form an idea of the experience of the sculptors and craftsmen attached to these workshops. The fourthand fifth-century architectural carvings—niche heads, friezes, pilaster capitals, pilaster bases (fig. 34)1 and other decorated architectural members2—discussed in Chapter V attest the survival of Alexandrian late Hellenistic types and forms. This chapter aims to examine the impact of contemporary Alexandrian sculpture on the production of late antique local workshops. The investigation begins by posing the question of the influence of the imperial porphyry workshop(s).3

Porphyry was quarried at the Mons Porphyrites in the Eastern Desert exclusively for imperial use, in which, besides the rarity of the stone and the difficulty of working it, the symbolic value of its purple colour also played a significant role. The hardest stone known in antiquity, porphyry was worked exclusively, or at least mainly, by Egyptian craftsmen and sculptors at the quarries as well as in specialized imperial porphyry workshop(s) at Alexandria.4 In the third to fifth centuries, imperial and divine images, architectural members,

1 CM 7012, birth of Aphrodite: Monneret de Villard 1923 fig. 31; Török 1990 468, fig. 60.

2 E.g., tondo, CM 7015 (12/1/30/26), with representation of sea thiasos: Török 1990 462, figs 52, 53; Roeder 1959 304 § 5 701/VI, Pl. 71, fragment of tondo (?) with bust (?) of emperor.

3 Török 1990 441 ff., figs 17–32; cf. Török 1998 63 ff.

4 Delbrueck 1932; W. von Sydow: Zur Kunstgeschichte des spätantiken Porträts im 4. Jahrhundert n. Chr. Bonn 1969 135 ff.—For a finished porphyry sarcophagus lid found in Alexandria, see Severin 1998a 304 f.

-183-

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