Bronze cista (toiletries box)

Period: Hellenistic

Date: ca. 325–275 B.C.

Culture: Praenestine

Medium: Bronze

Dimensions: H. 16 in. (40.6 cm)

Classification: Bronzes

Credit Line: Gift of Courtland Field Bishop, 1922

Accession Number: 22.84.2a, b


This bronze container from Praeneste has an incised body and lid, three cast feet, and a handle, separately manufactured and attached. The handle is made of two naked figurines, a man and woman, holding each other with outstretched arms, thus forming a functional grip-handle. The three cast feet have a relief plaque that portrays a lion in profile, ready to leap.
Incised on the cista body, Herakles is portrayed fighting against the Amazons. The hero is recognizable by the lion skin knotted over his shoulder. He holds an Amazon by the shoulder and she covers her face with her hand in a dramatic gesture. All the figures occupy the entire space framed by two decorative borders, and they overlap one another, creating different spatial planes.
Greek mythology was clearly known to the Praenestine craftsmen, yet it was often transformed and modified to fit the local culture. Mythological figures occur on Praenestine cistae decorations, often inserted within a set of repertoire figures and recognizable by their attributes. Decoration prevails over narrative, thus even two unrelated mythological scenes are at times juxtaposed. On this cista, for example, a Greek warrior is holding the lifeless body of an Amazon, recalling the famous Hellenistic statue group of Achilles and Penthesilea.