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Lot 196: Roman Isis and Harpocrates Plaque
December 6, 2016
London, United KingdomLive Auction
Description: 1st-2nd century AD. A flat-section silver plaque formed as a pair of standing figures on a thick baseline; to the left, the goddess Isis in loosely draped robe with two plumes above the head and holding a cornucopia; to the right Harpocrates in hatched garment with hand to the mouth and holding a cornucopia. 9.40 grams, 36mm (1 1/2"). Property of a German collector; acquired in the 1980s and 1990s. The goddess Isis was an important deity from the early history of Egypt and her name means throne. It would seem that originally she was the embodiment of the power of royal rule, and was often considered to be the symbolic mother of the pharaoh. The complex myth surrounding the goddess involves her seeking her dead husband and brother, Osiris, after he is murdered by their brother, the god Set. After an arduous journey to find the body of Osiris she eventually finds him in Byblos and brings his body back to Egypt. It is there that she uses her magical powers to resurrect the dead god and conceive a son, Horus, who goes on to avenge his father by defeating Set and restoring order to the cosmos. Isis developed into a complex deity during the history of Pharaonic Egypt and not only was she the divine power behind the throne but she was also the guardian of the dead and Mistress of Magic. In the Hellenistic and Roman periods she became the focus of a mystery cult and her role was that of a saviour who promised her devotees salvation and a life after death. In the cult Horus was mainly depicted as a young child, and was known as Harpocrates, shown with his finger to his mouth denoting the keeping of secrets that were only disclosed to the initiated members of the cult. The worship of Isis became hugely popular in the Roman Empire as it appealed to all levels of society. She had imperial patronage from a number of emperors and temples were dedicated to her across the empire.
Condition Report: Very fine condition.