Since the late 19th century, Alexandria has been considered by scholars as the principal centre of ivory and bone carving in the Mediterranean. The abundance of such objects gathered during the construction boom of the rapidly developing modern city led to the formation of several private collections. Excavations directed by the Municipality and numerous private donations yielded a large ensemble of bone and ivory pieces that were exhibited in the Graeco-Roman Museum, an institution founded at the end of the 19th century. Ivory and bone carvings became a subject of special attention, since they were considered as one of the best sources for our knowledge of Alexandrian history of art. Unfortunately, contradictory opinions on the eventual role of Alexandrian workshops in Mediterranean art remained unresolved for an entire century, due to a lack of stratified excavations and the properly identified context of archaelogical finds.
This volume presents for the first time the largest ensemble of bone and ivory carvings acquired from systematic excavations in ancient Alexandria and its suburbs, as carried out by the Centre d'Études Alexandrines (CEAlex). A selection of the most representative pieces (667) carved in the round, adorned with incised and relief decoration, a variety of daily use objects, half-products, and rejects are presented in the catalogue, which is enriched by drawings, photographs and maps indicating where they were excavated. Judging from the ample workwhop material, we can now directly confirm the local production of specific bone and ivory carvings in ancient Alexandria, also the locations of specialised ateliers within the city and the period of their activity. The first part of the book presents an extensive discussion on bone and ivory production, its role in Alexandrian art and its relationship to other crafts such as carpentry, local and regional commerce, as well as an analysis of individual items based on broad comparative studies, all of which help to solve basic questions on Alexandrian ivory and bone carving, particulary in the Roman and Byzantine periods.