Lintel with acanthus scrolls enclosing animals and human busts
Inv. No. 7381
Limestone, H: 40 cm, L: 135 cm
Saqqara, Monastery of St. Jeremiah, 6th / 7th century

A Latin cross is set in the centre of this beautifully carved frieze. Acanthus scrolls to either side of the cross enclose human busts, an antelope and a lion. Along the lower edge of the block is a Coptic inscription which is a dedication of Victor and his son Shoi.

Relief with a cross
Inv. No. 6529
H: 27 cm, W: 32 cm
Unknown provenance, 7th century

This semi-circular stone is decorated with a cross set against a pearl-studded shell. In Christianity the shell in combination with the cross symbolize rebirth and resurrection. The original context of the stone is not known, but most probably originates from a church.

Relief with a crown flanked by two eagles
Inv. No.: 4619
H: 32 cm, W: 44 cm
Unknown provenance, 7th century

Since ancient times the eagle has been a symbol of majesty and triumph. In the Christian context, it symbolizes the resurrection and is also associated with the evangelist St. John. The symmetrical order of the two eagles is a characteristic feature in Coptic art. A wreath-like crown in the centre of the relief stands as an emblem for victory.

Inv. No. 12346
H: 29 cm, W: 26 cm
Terenouthis, 3rd century

The gravestones from Terenouthis were crafted for a community adhering to pre-Christian beliefs. A typical feature is the intermingling of Pharaonic and Greco-Roman elements. This example shows the deceased in Greek dress. He stands within an architectural structure whose roof is formed by a frieze of cobras, first used in the funerary precint of Pharaoh Djoser in Saqqara. The Pharaonic god Anubis, here in the shape of a jackal, accompanies the deceased to safely reach the afterlife.

Inv. No. 8703
H: 77 cm, W: 52 cm
Unknown provenance, 5th century

Coptic gravestones often depict the deceased with their hands raised in prayer. This example was made for a woman who is dressed in a long garment. A traditional Roman mantle covers her head and shoulders and hangs down over her elbows. The deceased stands within an architectural structure of columns and a pediment decorated with a shell. Lamps suspended from the pediment above the woman’s hands relate to a chapel or church.

Capital with relief from a pilaster
Inv. No. 6471
H: 34 cm, W: 72 cm
Unknown provenance, 4th century

Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, occupies the centre of the scene. He is depicted naked apart from high boots and a cloak around his shoulders and left arm. With his left elbow he leans against a pedestal, his right arm is raised above his head. Dionysus is frequently accompanied by a panther at his feet. To the left a bearded figure is rendered in female clothes and a drinking horn in his left hand. He can probably be identified as Heracles, the most famous of all Greek heroes. One story about Heracles has him exchanging clothes with his wife. The tipsy hero is supported by a male companion. A female follower of Dionysus stands at the right edge of the slab. Grapevines evoke the joyful atmosphere of the entire scene. Dionysian patterns were much favoured in Coptic art.

Inv. No. 7044
H: 40 cm, W: 115 cm
Probably from Ahnas, 4th century

Reliefs with Greek-mythological themes adorned the facades of tombs in Heracleopolis Magna (Ahnas) built for a non-Christian community. This broken pediment is decorated with Pan, the god of the woods, chasing a frenzied priestess of Dionysus, the god of wine, holding clappers in both hands. Pan’s typical features are goat’s feet and horns sticking out of his hair. A drapery blowing around his neck signals his frantic speed. Wild lions and an acanthus interlace frame the scene.

Tombstone of Plenis
Inv. No. 8585
H: 67 cm, W: 61 cm
Unknown provenance, 6th century

Tombstones from the early years of Christianity are often decorated with an architectural structure symbolizing the house of God. Various Christian symbols fill the lower part of this gravestone. In the centre is Christ’s monogram, comprising the two Greek letters “Chi” and “Rho”. This monogram is the most common symbol of Jesus along with the cross and fish. Here it is flanked by looped crosses (crux ansata), formerly the Egyptian Hieroglyph “Ankh” (the key of life), and the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet “Alpha” and “Omega”, evoking eternity. All of these Christian signs are framed by fluted columns. Two leaves and a Greek inscription are set inside the pediment. The inscription gives the deceased’s name, the date of his death and expresses the wish that he may “rest in peace”.

Inv. No. 8566
El-Badary (Assiut), 6th century

This gravestone is carved with a looped cross, formerly the Egyptian “Ankh” (the Pharaonic key of life). It is decorated with a wreath-like pattern and flanked by Greek crosses. Another Greek cross is set inside the loop which is surrounded by a palm branch, which symbolises victory.

Capital with vine leaves and bunches of grapes
Inv. No. 8260
H: 40 cm
Saqqara, Monastery of St. Jeremiah, 6th century

This basket-like capital is a masterpiece of Coptic sculpture and exemplifies the outstanding skills of Coptic artists. It is decorated with interwining vines, tendrils, leaves and bunches of grapes, evoking the sacrifice of Christ and the Eucharist. There are faint traces of color, red on the vines and brown on the leaves. The four projecting corners of the abacus are covered with foliage. In its centre heart-shaped tendrils surround a bunch of grapes and a single leaf.

Capital decorated with wind-blown acanthus leaves
Inv. No. 7978
H: 43 cm
Saqqara, Monastery of St. Jeremiah, 6th century

The Coptic culture has yielded a great number of finely carved capitals. This example is exceptional in its design. It is decorated with acanthus leaves as if they were blowing in the wind. On all of the capital’s four sides, at the upper edge, a Greek cross is set inside a wreath.

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