An Egyptian Landscape at Minturnae

By: J. J.

Originally Published in 1934

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IN Plate VIII is shown a restored terra-cotta plaque of a type represented by numerous fragments in the excavations at Minturnre. The modern portions have been made from moulds of other fragments actually preserved, so that no free restoration is involved. The scene is a Nile landscape; the observer is made to peer out through an arched colonnade at the scene outside. In the foreground of the left-hand arch a hippopotamus, ankle deep in the river, munches contentedly upon a huge mouthful of dangling river grasses which he has just brought up, and a crocodile is resting watchfully upon a narrow tongue of sand. Behind them, on the shore, is a round, grass hut with a conical roof. On top of this are a stork and its nest. To the left and right a fence of woven reeds encloses a garden attached to the hut, and on this fence stands another stork. In the second panel the foreground is occupied by a small skiff paddled by two grotesque pygmies; beside the boat swim a crocodile and a duck. On the shore is another grass hut, this time rectangular and with a peak roof, suggesting the form of a temple. On its roof are two storks, and the hut also has a fenced garden, guarded by an arched gate.

Plaque showing huts and animals on the Nile
Plate VIII — Terracotta Plaque from Minturnæ, Italy, Depicting an Egyptian Landscape
Museum Object Number: 32-36-15
Image Number: 26057

Numerous other plaques of closely similar design have been found at Rome. One, now to be seen in the Museo delle Terme, differs from it only in very minor details-the tall column at the left has four flutings instead of five; the second stork, in the background of the first panel, is replaced by a pygmy gathering fruit; the thatch of the hut and of the fence is woven quite differently-in the right-hand panel there are two ducks instead of one, beside the crocodile; otherwise the panel might have been cast from the same mould as the Minturnrae specimen.

Another example of this type, in the Palazzo del Conservatori in Rome, has marked differences in details while preserving the scheme intact. The arrangement of columns and arches is the same, but with different frieze and capitals. The arches have a dentil moulding. The smaller columns are round, not square; the center one is unfluted, while the outer ones have spiral flutings. Above the center column, in the free space between the arches, is a bucranium. The first panel resembles that of Minturnae but between the round hut and the center column, room has been found for a small square outbuilding with a peaked tile roof. The second panel is markedly different for the treatment of the building; stone block and tile roof construction is indicated instead of reeds, and in the triangular pediment are rough traces of a sculptural group; the building has thus become a bona-fide temple. The arrangement of the garden fence again differs; the scene in the water is the same, except that there are no ducks.

These plaques have figured in a recent study of Egyptian landscapes (R. Pfister, ‘Nil, nilomètres et l’orientalisation du paysagè hellénistique,’ Revue des arts asiatiques, VII (1931-2), pages 121-140 – especially pages 129-131 and Plate XLIVa). To explain their presence in Italy, Pfister is most attracted by the suggestion that they were made at Rome as copies and adaptations of a prototype produced at Alexandria- the inexactnesses being explained both by the ignorance of the Alexandrian artisans themselves of the true Nile landscape, and by their unexacting clientele. But we know nothing of an Alexandrian manufactory of decorative friezes in terracotta, which had long been the familiar property of Italian potters. It seems much more likely that these plaques were all copied, at different times and by different potters, from a popular painting-not necessarily by an artist acquainted with Egypt-on exhibition in Rome.

These plaques retained traces of color when found; the water was Nile green, appropriately enough, the crocodiles and hippopotamus red. The thatched houses were ochre with touches of black and white. Because of the unusual preservation of these colors, and because of the nature of the scene itself-purporting to be seen beyond a colonnade-it seems likely that the plaque formed a decorative frieze in the interior of a temple. A great many of these plaques would be used, running all around the wall to form a continuous frieze.

The temple to which we assign the plaque is known in the terminology of field notes as Temple L; the date is roughly the end of the first Christian century. The plaque is sixty-one centimeters (slightly over two Roman feet) square. As far as we can learn at present this is the first plaque of this type to be found outside of Rome.

In the Minturnae case in the Etruscan room of the Museum is to be seen a cast of the restored original from which the photograph was made. This original is now at Minturnae. In front of this cast are typical fragments of another plaque, which will in due course be restored at the Museum.

Cite This Article

J., J.. "An Egyptian Landscape at Minturnae." Museum Bulletin V, no. 1 (January, 1934): 13-20. Accessed July 15, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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