Asclepius-Hygieia Diptych



Two ivory panels from a late antique diptych. On the left panel is Asclepius,the God of Medicine and on the right panel is Hygieia, the goddess of Health. The representation of the two deities especially of Asclepius derives from well known statues in antiquity. God Asclepius is dressed as a philosopher, his serpent twisted up his staff. At his feet to the right as an ox-head and to the left the underworld child-deity Telesphoros, holding an open scroll. There are traces of gold in both arms of Asclepius and of orange and red pigment in the centre of the body and of green crystals in the fold of the cloak. The reverse side has blue pigment on the top right. On the right panel, there is a more unusual image, a statue of Hygieia, the daughter of Asclepius, with Cupid. She leans with her left elbow on a tripod and has her left foot on the tripod's base. She wears a long sleeved dress over a long garment, sandals and a metal cirlclet on her head. She offers an egg to the snake that coils through the tripod and round her shoulders. She is framed by two columns which are linked with swags of oak trees. The left column has a child who lets a snake out of the basket (the cysta mystica). On the right column there is a patera and a jug with a snake coiling around it. There are traces of gold behind the head of the snake at the top right and orange red pigment on Hygeia's hair there is some red pigment on the right border and the right hand draped wreath and green in the right border. The reverse of panel has Medieval or later writing, illegible. The imagery of this possibly consular diptych evokes the old pagan religion while the philosophical symmposium of the Saturnalia, a work written around 430 AD by Macrobius but set more in the 370s. The context for Asclepius and Hygeia, personifying the Sun and the Moon (Salus) is described in a passage from Macrobius' Saturnalia. The philosophical and intellectual circles of Rome around 430s used the old pagan gods to express their new Neo-Platonic ideas. The existence of the diptych is attested from about AD 1500, among drawings of items in the Gaddi collection. The diptych remained with the Gaddi family until the 1750s. By about 1800 the diptych was in the collection of Caronni who sold it to Count Mihály Wiczay of Hédervár in south-west Hungary. Wiczay in turn sold it to Gabor Fejérváry. Fejérváry (1781-1851) was born in the modern-day Slovak Republic. In 1851 Fejérváry's collection was bequeathed to his nephew, Ferenc Pulszky, who sold the collection to Joseph Mayer in 1855.