Byzantine Coptic Terracotta Ampulla with St Menas

£ 595.00

A Byzantine, Coptic, terracotta moulded ampulla with a decorated body. The vessel is formed from a pyriform-shaped body, with a central, circular motif to the centre. It depicts a standing figure, facing forward with arms outstretched. He wears a tunic, ending at the knees and indented at the waist, indicating a covering of body armour. A long cloak falls at his back, ending at the ankles. At each side of the figure are two zoomorphic figures, representing camels. The scene is encircled by a band of moulded dots, framing the composition. The motif appears on both sides of the vessel. Two thick handles join the large body to the flattened rim.

Date: Circa 5th - 7th century AD
Provenance: Ex JR Mothersole collection. UK based collection acquired from 1970s-1990s from the Holy Land. Passed by descent to the owner’s nephews. Acquired by Ancient Art in 2022.
Condition: Excellent. Some wear consistent with age. Details still clear and defined.


Product Code: BS-40
Categories: , Tags: , , ,

Ampulla were vessels, used to carry water or oil, from sacred sites of pilgrimage. They were made in a number of materials, including terracotta, glass and metal. Vessels such as this were common, dedicated to St Menas. He was a Christian martyr, of Egyptian origin, who was a soldier in the Roman army from the 3rd century AD. According to historical references, having proclaimed his new faith, he was martyred around the year AD 309. As is typical of these ampullae, St Menas is usually depicted between two camels. According to the sources, camels carried the saint’s body, after his martyrdom, into the Libyan desert. Near Alexandria, on the edges of Lake Mariout, the camel refused to move any further. Taking this as a sign of God, St Menas was buried here.

Ampullae were used by pilgrims to carry holy water and oil from the sacred site of Abbu Menas, a town and monastic site. Abbu Menas became a place of healing and veneration and had pilgrims up until the 7th century.

Dimensions W 7.2 x H 8.9 cm



North Africa, Southern Europe

Reference: For a similar item: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, item 27.94.19

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