WHAT: When a massive carved white marble liturgical table from the early Byzantine era soared to $105,825, including buyer premium, in an Artemis Gallery auction, bidders were clearly influenced by skillful relief carvings of sheep, along with unusual rounded compartments on three sides. Another feature was a relief chi-rho representing Christ. More on that below.
The unusual horseshoe shape of the stone was an additional plus. Most pieces like this are not found intact, and those that survive are usually round or square.
MORE: The 40.6-inch-by-37.4-inch slab was used as a liturgical tabletop for gravesite feasts to honor the dead. All rested on large stone bases carved with images representing promised salvation.
SMART COLLECTORS KNOW: Horseshoe slabs are also known as "sigma tables," based on how they resemble the Greek letter.
HOT TIP: Skillfully carved sheep at the bottom represent the blessed, as written in Matthew 25:33-40. They surround a chi-rho symbol, the monogram for Christ based on the first two letters of his name in Greek.
BOTTOM LINE: Clearly an unusual example of its kind, the tabletop is notable for its carvings, shape and condition. Christian themes make it rare. Others carved during the Roman and Byzantine Empires tend to have pagan themes such as processions featuring Dionysus. According to the catalog, a comparable stone is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.