"This ampulla belongs to a small group of clay pilgrim flasks found in the region around Ephesus in western Asia Minor. Characteristic of the ampullas from this area, it is small, oval in form, and devoid of handles. The string holes piercing the shoulders allowed the flask to be suspended from the neck or belt of the pilgrim.
The flask is in fair condition. The images are worn, and a large chip in the neck and shoulder has partially destroyed the image on one side. There are two different images shown on this flask. On one side, a male figure is shown in three-quarter view seated in a chair with a high back and with crossed legs under an aedicula abbreviated as a spiral column. In his right hand he is holding a stylus, and in his left a codex or diptych. On the other side, a male figure, standing frontally and flanked by two stylized trees, holds a book decorated with the cross of St. Andrew against his chest. He has a cap of short hair, a long pointed beard, and wears a long-sleeved tunic.
These images are compared to the standing and seated evangelist portraits in the sixth-century Rabbula Gospels. The seated portrait was a type especially associated with the evangelists in the Byzantine tradition. From the Early Christian period until the fall of Byzantium, Ephesus was the cult center of St. John the Evangelist. According to popular legend, St. John lay sleeping in his tomb until the Second Coming. Once a year on his feast day, he affirmed his living presence by blowing dust up to the surface of his tomb. A portion of this "manna" was carried away by the pilgrims who visited his shrine, for it was attributed with the power to heal and protect. Given the popularity of St. John in western Asia Minor, it is likely that this ampulla originated from St. John's shrine in Ephesus and contained his miraculous dust.
Similar examples of this type may be seen in Campbell, 1988, p. 541, fig. 3; Curcic and St. Clair, pp. 120, no. 148; Metzger, pp. 45-46, figs. 95-97; Zalesskaja, 1976, p. 1533, no. 1003; Hanfmann, pp. 16-17; Dalton, 1901, p. 159, no. 912; and in the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, inv. no. 1913.592." -Eunice Dauterman Maguire, Henry Maguire and Maggie J. Duncan-Flowers, Art and Holy Powers in the Early Christian House (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 209.
Photo of item in Eugene Dillenburg's Exhibit Gallery Webpage, July 3, 2005.
Maguire, Eunice Dauterman, Henry Maguire and Maggie J. Duncan-Flowers. Art and Holy Powers in the Early Christian House. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989.