Bowl Fragments with Menorah, Shofar, and Torah Ark

Date: 300–350

Culture: Roman

Medium: Glass, gold leaf

Dimensions: Overall: 2 11/16 x 2 3/4 x 1/4 in. (6.9 x 7 x 0.7 cm)
a only: 1 1/2 x 3 1/2 in. (3.8 x 8.9 cm)
b only: 1 1/2 x 1 1/4 in. (3.8 x 3.2 cm)

Classification: Glass-Gold glass

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1918

Accession Number: 18.145.1a, b


These fragments of gold glass, dating from the fourth century, originally formed the decorative base of a bowl or cup. The base was created by affixing a pattern in gold leaf to the bottom of the vessel and then covering the decoration with another layer of glass. The use of this gold-glass technique flourished in the third and fourth centuries in Rome. This fragmented base is among the few surviving works that depict Jewish objects; most remnants of such drinking vessels are decorated with Christian or secular motifs. The majority of the surviving examples were found in tombs, especially in the catacombs in Rome.

The decoration of this base, like that of other Hebrew examples, is divided into two semicircular registers. The upper register depicts symbols of Jewish culture. In the center is an open Torah shrine. The gable of the ark is supported by two columns with Corinthian capitals. The doors of the shrine are open, revealing four shelves holding six scrolls. Seven-branched menorot sit on either side of the ark. To the far right stands a shofar, or ram's horn, and to the left a round object which may be matzoh, the unleavened bread eaten at the Jewish festival of Passover. Surrounding the left menorah are a scroll and the remains of an etrog—a fruit used in the harvest festival of Sukkoth—which can be seen on the edge of the fragment. Although little of the lower register remains, it depicts a banquet hall with garlands on the walls and cushions surrounding a table upon which rests a smaller three-legged table holding a fish. Such banqueting scenes are also seen in Christian and pagan funerary art. They are symbolic of the agape, or fellowship meal, honoring the deceased. Both the upper and lower registers are surrounded by an inscription, reading I BIBAS CVM EVLOGIA COKP(ARARE)—Drink with praise together. The inscription, the symbols in the upper register, and the banquet scene below suggest that this fragment of gold glass may have been the base of a drinking vessel used during the Passover festival and buried with its owner to bless him in the afterlife.