The allure of the Egyptian Isis cult in Roman Italy


Eleni Vassilika (BSR)

The Mensa Isiaca is an Egyptian-style altar of the Roman period that serves as a ‘gateway’ object and opens numerous doors of interpretation. Discovered in Rome in the 16th century, it has a visual vocabulary that is both Egyptian and ‘other’, iconographically transformed through historical syncretism with foreign deities in an age of mysticism and revelation. This talk will explore the altar’s gripping history from its provenance to its survival from conflagration and confiscation, showing how its complex images were fodder for Enlightenment thinkers and esoteric spiritualists of the 19th and 20th centuries. It will also discuss the altar’s manufacture, a metallurgical tour de force that has largely been overlooked.