Pair of Roman Bronze Chariot Handles in the Form of Venus


1st Cnetury AD to 3rd Century AD


7″ (17.8cm) high x 2.25″ (5.7cm) wide x 4.5″ (11.4cm) depth





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These magnificent bronze handles once decorated a Roman chariot, Rather than adorning a lightweight racing vehicles, the heavy and ornate nature of these ornaments suggests that they were originally attached to a more substantial vehicle such as a pilentum (used to transport aristocrats on state occasions), a carruca (for transporting emperors and aristocratic matrons) or even a thensa (a ceremonial chariot used to transport deities to the imperial games). More utilitarian vehicles such as the arcera would not have been so richly decorated.

These fittings would have been the finishing touches to a vehicle already resplendent with the most luxurious and expensive materials and accessories available. Contemporary sources describe ornate inlay, rare woods and metalwork incorporated into these vehicles, and it is possible that these sculptural handles would originally have been gilded. The horses would have been similarly magnificent and groomed for the occasion.

Venus, the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, has been a major subject of sculptural fascination for over two thousand years. Her divine roots can be traced back beyond the Classical pantheon, to the Middle Eastern and prehistoric mother goddess, and she is said to have arisen in her current form with the Assyrian civilization. She was the goddess of love and beauty, born from the sea (as depicted in Sandro Botticelli’s celebrated Renaissance masterpiece “The Birth of Venus”).

Statues of Venus were often carved for temples, as well as for high-ranking homes and public gathering places. There are at least half a dozen recognized specific poses. This pair of mirror image Venus bronzes most closely resembles the so-called Venus Felix type, in which she is depicted pulling a cloth over her thigh in order to cover her sexuality. Here, however, she is depicted with her other arm resting upon a slender column as she twirls a strand of her hair. The poses combine elements both modest and flirtatious, revealing the complex nature of this goddess.

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