17.5″ (44.5cm) high
This very accomplished marble relief depicts a male figure in three-quarter view facing left. The figure has been represented according to Greek artistic conventions as a mature individual with a very full head of hair arranged in a very intricate style. That hair has been gathered at the back of the head into a chignon, has been coiffed over the forehead in a series of tight ringlets, and has been braided in a series of extremely long cork-screw locks, two of which cascade over his shoulder. The entire coiffure is held in place by a diadem. Complementing this luxuriantly full head of intricately arranged hair is the figure’s full beard, trimmed into an impressive triangular shape, which projects forward into space and which is accompanied by a thick moustache.
The individual is represented as a heroic nude with a mantled draped over his shoulders in such a way that their interaction serves as a foil so that the interplay of his flesh and fold, so characteristic of Greek art, is revealed to greatest advantage. In this manner, the naturalistically rendered human body and the lively qualities imparted to the inanimate drapery become an orchestration of contrasts.
The figure stands with his left arm bent at the elbow, its hand resting on his hip; the right arm, also similarly bent, appears to be held in front of his body. A diagonal, rectangular attribute, appearing behind this figure at the level of his hips, terminates in a floral-like finial at its end to the left. Despite its fragmentary nature, this may be regarded as either a spear or a sword suggesting, perhaps, that there was a second figure, to be reconstructed in our mind’s eye to the right of the composition.
The style of our relief is very characteristic of a well- known classification of sculptures which were created by Athenian artists catering to the tastes of Roman patrons and collectors during the late first century BC. These artists took as their points of departure earlier works created in Athens in both the sixth and fifth centuries BC which they quoted, somewhat transformed, in their own works. It is for this reason, therefore, that the folds of our figure’s mantle and his cork-screw locks recall Archaic Greek works whereas the treatment of his beard and moustache recall such masterpieces of the fifth century BC as the bronze statue of Zeus recovered from the sea at Artemesium and now in Athens.
These artistic quotations were intended to reveal the sophistication of those Roman connoisseurs who commissioned large-scale objects such as vases, altars, fountains, well-heads, candelabra, and the like, insisting that such objects exclusively incorporate into their designs quotations of such works as that found on our relief. One may suggest, therefore, that the subject of our relief deals with heroes or gods, rather than with a more mundane theme.
Alternately termed either Neo-Attic or Archaistic, these reliefs present us with a window onto the landscape of art collecting in the early Roman Imperial Period and demonstrate just how long- lived the works of these earlier Athenian masters were and how much they were admired in antiquity. Indeed, time has not diminished their appeal. Our relief is so consummately sculpted that the figure appears almost in the round, as if he were a free standing sculpture and that feeling is enhanced by the quality of the marble employed.
For these reliefs in general, see Cornelius C. Vermeule, III, Greek Sculpture and Roman Taste. The purpose and Setting of Graeco-Roman Art in Italy and the Greek Imperial East (Ann Arbor 1977), page 12; and more fully, Margarete Bieber, The Sculpture of the Hellenistic Age [revised edition] (New York 1961), pages 182ff. For the Zeus from Artemesium and other sculpture of the fifth century which may have served as points of departure for these Athenian artists, see John Boardman, Greek Sculpture of the Classical Period (New York 1985), figure 35, passim.Login to view price