Winning Bid: $25,000
An Important Translated Byzantine Marble Altar Tabletop:
**This is an oversized piece that may require special shipping. Please inquire for a quote prior to bidding.
Holy Land, Late Roman / Early Byzantine Period, ca. mid-5th to 6th century CE. A marvelous marble altar tabletop of an immense scale and a rectangular form. The elegant piece displays a recessed central basin and a raised rim inscribed with Ancient Greek text along one long side and Syriac Aramaic on the other, each flanked by a pair of Greek crosses and written with the periphery serving as the bottom so that a sitter at the table would be able to read the inscription in front of them. The Ancient Greek text reveals that this was an altar table, translating to “Petros with his wife Kosmiane presented [this] as offering with gratitude” and is followed by 2 palm leaves and 3 letters – X, M, and the Greek letter gamma – which serve as a Christogram meaning “Mary is the mother of Christ.” The Aramaic Syriac script likely bears a plea to God in return for the offering of the table. Size: 55″ L x 31.7″ W x 2.1″ H (139.7 cm x 80.5 cm x 5.3 cm)
Though minimalist in form, the table boasts a skillfully carved 3-tier border, with the highest tier bearing the inscription and the lowest only slightly elevated from the central basin. An additional inscription of a symbol that combines the letters T, P, O, and Y is featured on the verso, likely intended to represent either the artist’s signature, the church for which the table was intended, or the city in which the table was located.
Marble tabletops have been found widely throughout the Roman and Byzantine Empires; however, the vast majority exist as only small fragments. These tabletops were used to celebrate feasts for the dead at grave sites – a commemorative practice known throughout the Roman and early Byzantine worlds – and were often supported by bases and elaborately incised with messages promising salvation.
Prior to the 2nd century, Romans cremated their dead; around that time, inspired by the Greek and Etruscan practice of using sarcophagi, they began to place their dead in sarcophagi. This trend spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire. In the western part of the Empire, sarcophagi were placed inside a mausoleum against a wall or in a niche, so the only decorated panels were on the front and the short sides. This tabletop probably came from the grave of a high-status Roman citizen.
A marble tabletop with an identical Greek inscription is discussed in “Syria Grammata Kai Agalmata” by Hassan Salame-Sarkis in the journal Syria, 66, no. 1/4 (Institut Francais du Proche-Orient, 1989), 320-322.
This piece has been searched against the Art Loss Register database and has been cleared. The Art Loss Register maintains the world’s largest database of stolen art, collectibles, and antiques.
Provenance: private West Hollywood, California, USA collection; ex-Westreich collection, Rancho Santa Fe, California, USA and previously on display in Chevy Chase, Maryland, USA, acquired on the London art market and imported into the US in 1985
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Display stands not described as included/custom in the item description are for photography purposes only and will not be included with the item upon shipping.
Repaired from several pieces with some very light restoration and most break lines visible. Chipping with small areas of loss to peripheries. Otherwise, excellent with smooth surfaces and impressive remaining detail to inscriptions.