Support for an oblong water basin, 2nd century a.d.
Porphyry; L. 58 1/2 in. (148.6 cm)
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1992 (1992.11.70)
Under Roman rule, the quarrying of red porphyry in the eastern desert of Egypt, at Mons Porphyrites, near the present Suez Canal, was an imperial monopoly. Porphyry was regarded as a royal stone, and its use in architecture and sculpture remained quite limited. This massive sculpture, displaying a concave resting surface at the top, is one of a pair that originally supported a deep oblong bath or water basin; half of its mate is set into a wall in the Palazzo Capponi, Florence, and the other half is in a private collection in Scotland. Water basins with elaborate supports of this type were produced primarily in the second century A.D. Each end of this magnificent example is decorated with a lion's head in high relief, emerging from an abbreviated "chest" of acanthus leaves, which terminates in an enormous paw. The entire outer face of the support is embellished with an elaborate, symmetrical foliate design emerging from a central lotus motif that resembles the top of a thymiaterion. The delicate swirling vines interspersed with buds and small flowers show a remarkable degree of grace and sensitivity. The support's inner face features simple tendrils flanking a square, raised blank panel. The bold, heavy forms, the careful finish of details throughout, and the high polish all attest to the artist's command over this material, the most noble but also the most difficult to work of all colored stones.