African Red Slipware Bowl with Old Testament Scenes


A finely modelled Ancient Roman red slipware shallow bowl from North Africa. The bowl features on the inside a moulded decoration in high relief, depicting the Binding of Isaac. Abraham is portrayed standing, wearing a short tunic with one strap, and holding a dagger in his right hand. With his left hand he holds Isaac’s head over an altar. Isaac is portrayed bent, with his hands tied behind his back. The scene is completed by the depiction of a ram and a bush or tree, in which a dove appears. The piece also features a simple border of shallow grooves running parallel to the bowl’s edge, and two more grooves ring to the centre. In The Old Testament, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. As Abraham begins to comply God’s wish, a messenger sent from God (here in the form of a dove) interrupts him. Abraham will sacrifice a ram instead.

Date: Circa 1st-3rd Century AD
Condition: Fine, repaired.


Wares of this type are usually referred as African Red Slipware, and they were specific of the African province of the Roman Empire. Most pottery workshops are known from modern Tunisia and Algeria, and they were active from the 1st century until the 7th century AD. African Red Slipware is identified as the final development of terra sigillata, from the Latin, meaning ‘sealed earth’. Terra sigillata was a form of Roman red slipware pottery, which was developed around the mid-1st century BC, both for domestic use and export. These pieces were modelled on the lathe directly in the matrix, on which decorative motifs were hollowed out and then impressed on the smooth body of the vessel, appearing therefore in relief. Sometimes the decorative motifs in relief would have been applied to the vessel by using a very liquid clay. One of the most important centres of production was the Italian city of Arretium (modern day Arezzo). However, terra sigillata wares were produced also in Gaul and later in North Africa and Asia Minor. Terra sigillata vessels were often decorated in accordance with traditional Greco-Roman tastes, presenting images of classical mythology, hunting scenes and divine figures. Early Christian and Jewish iconographies, as seen on this fine example, were also a popular motif.

Weight 300 g
Dimensions W 18.4 cm

Pottery and Porcelain

Christian Ideology

Reference: For a similar item, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession number 1989.690

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