Roman Redware Terracotta Bowl with Jonah and the Whale

£ 5,000.00

An excellent Roman redware terracotta bowl with a scene depicting the biblical story of Jonah and the Whale. The shallow bowl has thin convex walls and rests on a small, circular foot. The scene on the interior shows Jonah being thrown off the boat into the sea.  Two angels seem to be helping drag the prophet down towards the awaiting whale, or ‘big fish’. The same sea creatures are depicted on the other side of the bowl, being ridden by another angel.  As the two parts of the scene are enclosed within the circular shape of the bowl, it is unclear whether the whales are being ushered towards the boat or away from it, creating a continuous narration effect. These  elements are visually connected by three smaller fish that swim across the middle of the plate.

The presence of the angelic figures in both parts of the plate acts as a representation of God’s plan and omnipresence. The vessel also shows an impressive attention to detail, from the decorative patterns on the ship and differing facial features of the seamen to the elaborate harnesses of the whales and individual feathers of the angels’ wings.

The piece also features an elegant border of three shallow grooves running parallel to the bowl’s edge. The outside of the bowl is undecorated. This style of red-ware, with applied applique decoration, was common in North Africa, with workshops in Tunisia.

Date: Circa 4th - 5th century AD
Provenance: From the J.L. collection, Surrey, U.K., acquired 2020s.
Condition: Excellent. Damage to some of the figures on the boat and the left hand of the angel riding the whales. Professionally repaired to the interior and exterior.
Product Code: RES-249
Categories: , Tags: ,

The bowl is made with terra sigillata technique (from Latin meaning ‘sealed earth) of North African provenance and constituted a precious kind of fine ware, reserved for the elites as a way to display prestige at banquets and dinner parties. This kind of pottery is characterised by its glossy red/orange surface slip, often featuring relief decoration, which was modelled, embossed, or applied. Red slipware became popular around the first century AD, and by the third century, it was the most popular type of tableware used in the Late Roman household. Dishes or other pottery made in this style were influenced by religion and mythology, with earlier pieces favouring the Roman gods and legends, and later pieces depicting early Christian saints and other biblical scenes.

The Book of Jonah revolves around its namesake, Jonah, and details his reluctance to the prophesy the destruction of Nineveh to its people, as commanded by God, by choosing to flee instead. Whilst attempting to escape his divine mission by ship, Jonah is cast off and swallowed by a ‘big fish’, or whale. After three days and three nights inside the stomach of the fish, Jonah repents and is allowed by God to continue on his mission.

Weight 363.3 g
Dimensions L 19.1 x W 19 x H 4 cm

Southern Europe



Christian Ideology

Old Testament

Reference: For a similar item, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, item 1988.1086

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