Roman Marble Temple Relief

SKU F.113

1st century BC – 1st century AD


21.9″ (55.6cm) high x 39.8″ (101.1cm) wide





Gallery Location



In this temple fragment, a vivid and splendid motion leaps forth the Capricorn, the goatfish whose presence is recognized in such number and variety of societies as to completely baffle the imagination. His sloped nose flexes its intricate musculature in tension and primitive stateliness. His majestic beard is shaped into the lean of his body against the wind- its strangled knots completely boisterous even in the delicacy and mastery of their execution. His brow is gentle and intelligent, and his eye has a benevolent curve rising into his cheek. Most interesting of all is the disparity of anatomy between his goat body and fish tail. Bulges and ripples across his neck and torso exude all of the firm strength and sturdy, explosive energy of the mammalian. But coiled beneath his scales is a completely different sort of motion, his muscle dispersed into thick coiling ropes that give him all of the dramatic grace and silent efficiency of a sea-beast. Offsetting the whimsical and feral nature of the beast, a regal and noble human presence stands to its left. The face, with its sweeping hair, its angular cheekbones, and strong wide chin, has an almost imperial delicacy atop the youthful chest that seems to want to burst out of the cuirass. Given the date of the temple’s commission, the depiction may very well be of an early member of the royal family. Tiberius, Nero, Caligula, and many other exceptionally famous and infamous characters of history might find themselves on the walls of a temple, perhaps as a gift for the dedication of its funds, or as a symbol of their predestination of Godly power.

The almost unequaled workmanship of this masterpiece offers assurance that it was most certainly sponsored by an imperial workshop. The marble is far too large and thick to be from a sarcophagus- in fact, relief work of this quality on such a massive medium indisputably leads us to discover that we have here an actual chunk of wall from a Roman temple. The obvious question arises, a temple dedicated to whom? Capricorn was the beloved astrological symbol of Augustus, one of the greatest and most exalted leaders of all time. So well loved was he that upon his death the senate ordered his deification, and the worship of the God-Emperor was for the first time allowed into the city of Rome. Commissioned in his honor, and thought to have depictions of Capricorn upon its edifice, was the Temple Divus Augustus, a work whose legendary splendor and grandeur has lived only in tale and legend since its destruction in around 100 A.D. Perhaps this piece is the last surviving fragment of the Divus Augustus, the first Classical temple dedicated to a man, and considered one of the grandest buildings of the Roman Empire. The historical ramifications of such a find are truly staggering, and whether Divus Augustus or some other Deity was worshipped within its precincts, the possession of a sacred wall is one of the most intimate experiences with history one can ever receive.

With a bit of imagination, the temple springs to life around this chunk of its wall. A symphony of marble erupts in every direction- the Capricorn’s tail sweeps into a dramatic scythe as the delicate face of our imperial soldier or family member grows back the sheet of his hair. A million other masterpieces come alive; the sound of voices, trumpets, spear-clashes, whinnies, whickers, and snorts ring in our ears. Veiled and silent priestesses drape oil and wreaths over sacrificial lambs, goats, and bulls- almost surreal elements of activity in this pure and motionless riot of a temple. Who stood witness to these holy rituals, and allowed their vacant hand to stray over the muzzle of our Capricorn? Roman temples felt the feet of every caste of society- slaves, soldiers, eunuchs, and emperors alike most certainly set foot in the confines of this temple wall- to be gazed upon by the Capricorn and man pictured before us. Life offers we who love the yarn of history and art so few opportunities to be in the presence of what we worship. Infinitely more arresting than the vagrant strings of imagination plucked at by our books and conversation, this piece puts a world in front of us, or rather, puts us within the world itself. Tangible, brought from the soil of Italy, we find the hands of a sculptor, the whicker of a Capricorn, the smile of a royal, and the voice of a civilization. Most people shall go their entire lives without casting eyes upon anything so truly exceptional as the undeniable beauty and importance immortalized in this bit of stone.

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