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A Gandhara Schist Cosmetic Tray with Hippocamp, ca. 2nd – 1st century B.C./A.D.

an exquisitely detailed greenish schist cosmetic tray, divided by a "T-shape," the upper register portrays a winged Hippocamp, with the head and fore-parts of a horse, and the curled serpentine tail of a fish. The Hippocamp was the symbol of Poseidon, Greek god of the sea. whose chariot was drawn over the surface of the water by such creatures.

The lower half of the tray is sub-divided into two quadrants by sturdy walls thus creating wells for mixing ancient cosmetics. The bottom surface of the wells is decorated with braided patterns that radiate outward from the center whereas the circumference of the tray is decorated with an alternating leaf-like border pattern, On the reverse, the smooth surface is decorated with multiple incised concentric lines, the innermost echoing the leaf pattern once more. 

Stone palettes of this type, also known as "toilet trays," are found in areas of Bactria and Gandhara and usually represent Greek mythological scenes. Some of them are attributed to the Indo-Greek period in the 2nd and 1st century BC. Many are considered to be of later production, around the 1st century AD during the time of the Indo-Parthians, but thereafter, they practically disappear.  

Scholars have suggested that these trays were used to mix cosmetic products, a comparison to ancient Egyptian cosmetic palettes of a similar function. The Ancient Orient Museum in Istanbul was able to analyze the remains of substances adhering to a number of stone palettes, that turned out to be colored cosmetic powders akin to blush. A frieze discovered in Butkara shows a woman using a mirror as she puts her fingers into one of these stone palettes. These rare objects, for their number barely surpasses 150 pieces, excite the curiosity of the scholars, as they provide evident borrowings of art from various civilizations that succeeded each other in the Indian subcontinent: Greek, Scythian, Parthian besides the Indian background, or remote Roman elements.

Condition: Rim border is chipped in some areas, mineral deposits that do not detract, the tray is otherwise intact and in very good condition overall. 

Dimensions:Diameter: 14 cm (5.5 inches)

Provenance: Private New York collection, acquired in the 1960's.

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