Near Eastern Art :
Bactrian Art : Bactrian Cosmetic Palette
Bactrian Cosmetic Palette - LO.1010
Origin: Central Asia
3.9" (9.9cm) wide
Collection: Near Eastern
Location: Great Britain
| Photo Gallery
Carved out of schist, this cosmetic palette is a
marvelous example of the type. In medium relief,
a mythological scene has been carved into the
surface of the small dish. A hippocampus, the
mythical sea creature based on the seahorse,
carries a human figure upon its back. The word
“hippocampus” comes from the Greek words
“hippos” meaning “horse” and “campus” meaning
“sea monster.” The male figure riding the back
of the hippocampus has been finely modeled as
well, particularly the form of his leg. In Greek
mythology, Poseidon, the god of the sea, as well
as other sea and river deities such as Nereus,
his fifty daughters the Nereids, rode upon the
backs of these creatures. Thus it is likely that
figure represents Nereus, the god of the waves.
The lip of the rim has also been decorated with
the classical motif of the grapevine.
The rendition of the scene in this pallete is
somewhat reminiscent of its Classical prototype.
Indeed the scene expresses a dynamism and
spontaneity, alien to its Greek source, but very
much present in the art of the region during the
first centuries of the Common Era.
A Bactrian beauty once ground cosmetic pigment
on the surface of this palette before applying
them to her face many centuries ago.
For an example of the same type with a similar
motif, please see the catalogue to the exhibition:
“Afghanistan: une histoire millenaire” Page 107.
Editions de la Reunion des musees nationaux,