- Home ›
- Funerary Stele ›
Copt is the name that was gradually attached to Egyptian Christians who, following the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE, broke with the majority of Christians on the question of the precise nature of Jesus as both god and human. This small limestone stele in the Snite Museum is a Coptic Egyptian funerary monument.
Limestone was the cheapest, most easily worked, and most common stone sculptural material in Egypt in Late Antiquity. This stele bears a relief of a man in a plain tunic, standing with his hands held aloft in a pose recognized as indicating prayer in both pagan and Christian contexts. In his right hand he holds what might be a torch, in his left what appears to be a staff. The inscribed letters above his head probably indicate the name of the deceased. ... The Snite monument is a fine example of one of the most common kinds of Coptic carvings, the gabled tomb stele. The deceased is pictured inside a gabled portico. Stelai like the Snite’s have been associated with Alexandria at the mouth of the Nile and with other sites in the Nile delta. There is also a concentration of such works in the Fayum region, particularly from around the town of Heracleopolis Magna. And like the Snite piece, the figures from Heracleopolis regularly have large round eyes with no pupil and a small round mouth with a definitive horizontal line separating the lips.
The heavy use of the drill, especially in the cap of curls that frame the forehead, suggest that the stele was not carved before the early fourth century CE, when such tooling became common. The deep and open carving, in which the form of the figure is not crowded with floral or geometric decorative motifs, further suggests that it was carved before the late sixth century. This agrees with the dates of the majority of similar sculptures from Heracleopolis Magna and indicates that the Snite stele, like those from Heracleopolis, dates from the fourth or fifth century CE.
from Rhodes, Eclectic Antiquity: The Classical Collection of the Snite Museum of Art (Notre Dame, 2010)