Ritual Basin

Date: 6th–8th century

Culture: Afghanistan or Central Asia

Medium: Bronze

Dimensions: Diam. 7 11/16 in. (19.5 cm)

Classification: Metalwork

Credit Line: Samuel Eilenberg Collection, Ex Coll.: Columbia University, Purchase, The Dillon Fund Gift, 1987

Accession Number: 1987.218.6


This unique basin has a flat bottom decorated with a lotus flower, and perpendicular sides with a frieze of two dragons attacking a boy. The youth, whose lower right leg is gripped in the mouth of one of the dragons, is falling backwards. In one hand, he clutches the horn of an antelope who lies below him; with the other, he holds a lotus stalk whose flower is pressed to his nostrils. He wears a diaphanous pleated garment with a heavy collar, and his hair is tied back with a ribbon whose ends fall behind his neck. The dragons are composite animals with horns, wings, and lithe, segmented anatomies. Their bodies sprout vegetation, and their haunches are emblazoned with palmettes.

The dragons are comparable to images of mythological animals on post-Sasanian metal vessels, particularly one on a ewer in the State Hermitage Museum, Leningrad. With the beast on the Hermitage ewer, they share horns, wings, elongated body, haunches with palmettes, and foliate elaboration of tails, beards, cockades, and genitals. The scrolling vegetal motifs seem to be related to the decoration on Gupta-period box lids, in which, however, the palmette is never depicted. The appearance of the palmette and the particular shape of the basin, which is related to early Islamic vessels, suggest a date in the seventh to ninth century, contemporaneous with Islamic examples.