Ostracon with fighting bulls

New Kingdom, Ramesside

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 124

Ostraca (plural for ostracon) are potsherds used as surfaces for writing or drawing. By extension, the term is applied to chips of limestone which were employed for similar purposes. Figural ostraca vary from sketches of a single feature to polychrome painted compositions. They were used to practice drawing, draft compositions, and copy scenes. However, some ostraca were created for more durable functions, used as cult images in religious practice and deposited at tombs or shrines as sites of access to the divine. Ostraca on which animals appear acting as humans have been variously interpreted as playful jokes, political satire, or illustrations to fables or myths in the oral tradition.

This ostracon is a dynamic depiction of two fighting bulls. The powerful motion is portrayed through their bodies, with the back legs of the charging bull pushing forward and head lowered to topple the other bull with its horns. Note the artist’s skillful use of color and pattering to add detail.

#3470. Ostracon with fighting bulls

Ostracon with fighting bulls, Limestone, paint

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