This relief carving, now set into the external wall of one of the apses of Treviso cathedral, probably originated as part of a Roman funeral monument or urn, a supposition supported by the recent discovery that the cathedral area was a burial site in Roman times.
The stone depicts a maenad dancing, her head and body arched backwards, veil and skirts billowing sensuously. The dionysian theme of dancing bacchantes and satyrs was popular with the Atticist “revival” and was often found in funeral monuments during the Roman Empire. Dionysos was the god of wine and ecstasy and the reference symbolized aspiration to a happy and carefree afterlife.
In late Mediaeval or Renaissance times, the words «In Ecclesiasticum» were carved into the stone, but they do little to reconcile the pagan force of the image to its current Christian setting.
The tablet calls for study, protection and appreciation both of itself and of the metaphorical values it proclaims – recreation and fertility, fields and harvests, and the stewardship of landscape and gardens.
In 1987 it has acquired a further level of meaning as the symbol of a study and research centre focusing on nature and the understanding of our past.