Palette with Wine-making Scene, 1st century BCE
Stone 15/16 in. x 4 5/16 (diam.) in. (2.38 cm x 10.95 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, gift of an anonymous donor2008.27.2
The excavators of Sirkap, across the river from Taxila, Pakistan, recovered numerous small, round stone trays decorated with Western mythological scenes. Generally described as palettes, or paterae, they were found in domestic settings and may have been used as cosmetic trays. Palettes from scientifically excavated sites allow us to date these works from the end of the 2nd century bce through the 1st century ce. This example relates to works in the second phase.1
The subject matter of the palettes relied on western mythology, with the earliest examples being closest to Greek carvings and themes. (See the Dionysiac scene below.) During the second phase, into which this example falls, the artist retained the Hellenistic style, yet used a darker stone—schist or chlorite—rather than the paler, yellow soapstone of the earliest period.
A nude male sea deity grasps the reins of the hippocamp, a fantastic composite sea monster/horse. The figures are carved in deep relief, and the strong sense of movement exhibited in the horse’s raised forelegs and the scarf flying from the neck of the rider is given further emphasis in the way the beast and rider press against the rim surround. The space below the figures has been left empty, possibly to contain pigment or scent but, unlike earlier or later examples, is not separated by a ridge. The double molding of the rim encloses a pearl motif.