Pyxis Depicting Standing Saints or Ecclesiastics and the Entry into Jerusalem with Christ Riding a Donkey

Object Name: Box

Date: mid- to late13th century

Geography: Syria

Culture: Islamic

Medium: Brass; hammered, engraved, inlaid with silver

Dimensions: (a+b):
H. 4 1/8 in. (10.5 cm)
Diam. 4 1/16 in. (10.3 cm)
Wt. 13.9 oz. (394.1 g)

Classification: Metal

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1971

Accession Number: 1971.39a, b


Cylindrical lidded boxes (pyxides) were probably used in the Islamic world to hold ushnan (alkaline ashes of the soda plant which were used for washing). A number of these boxes were produced in the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods (thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries), and this work, which has no inscription, is among a few that present Christian images. The body, entirely filled with vegetal scrolls, is divided into eight lobed medallions, each containing a figure. One medallion shows the entry of Christ into Jerusalem astride a donkey; he is accompanied by two men who are about to throw their garments under the animal's hooves and by two others who carry palm branches. Two angels hold a canopy above Christ's head, an image similar to secular throne scenes in contemporary Islamic manuscripts from northern Mesopotamia. In the medallion opposite the Entry into Jerusalem scene, a holy man is depicted frontally: he wears a chasuble, has a long, bifurcated beard, and holds a large cross. The remaining six medallions are occupied either by a figure holding an incense burner, a supplicant, or a monk. Four of these figures look toward Christ, emphasizing the focus of the composition, while the other two flank the holy man and turn toward him. The Virgin and Child with Saint Joseph are seen on the lid.