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Home > Auctions > 25th May 2021 > Roman Fresco of a Roman Military Commander

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LOT 0098

GBP (£) 25,000 - 35,000
EUR (€) 29,060 - 40,690
USD ($) 35,060 - 49,090

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£22,500 (EUR 26,157; USD 31,558) (+bp*)

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Roman Fresco of a Roman Military Commander

1st century BC-1st century AD

An imposing fresco fragment representing a young military commander dressed in high rank Roman uniform, standing with his face slightly turned to the right and leaning on his left leg, the right leg brought slightly forward; the right hand holding a long spear of which the butt is visible, a round flat shield of cavalry type (parma) on his left arm; gladius hanging from a baldric on the left side of the body; the warrior wearing a short sleeveless tunic of Greek type, off-white in colour with light red reflexes, decorated by two white segments in the lower skirt, and a military cloak of cerulean colour, arranged over a muscled bronze torso armour; the legs protected by bronze greaves and head by a bronze helmet restored as an Italic type Buggenum surmounted by a white cylinder from which a horsehair crest emerges. 12.3 kg, 71 x 46cm (28 x 18"). Fine condition, restored and remounted.

Property of a private New York collection; previously with Pierre Bergé & Associés, 29 November 2014, lot 255; formerly in an American private collection, 1970s-1990; accompanied by copies of the relevant Pierre Bergé & Associés catalogue pages and an archaeological report by Dr Raffaele D’Amato; this lot has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art and is accompanied by AIAD certificate number no.10647-174367.

The piece shows compositional similarities with the fresco of Vettii House in Pompei, representing the god Mars, cf. D’Amato, R., Sumner, G., Arms and Armour of the Imperial Roman Soldier: From Marius to Commodus, 112 BC-AD 192, London, 2009, fig.86.

The fresco has been previously interpreted as a representation of Alexander the Great, but a more careful analysis of the military equipment worn by the warrior allows us to consider it as a character from the Roman history or mythology, like the god Mars or the hero Marcus Iunius Brutus, Magister Equitum of the first Roman Res Publica, who freed the city from Etruscan tyranny. The bronze greaves and muscled armour – from the 1st century BC usually reserved for the military commanders – associated with the paludamentum suggests a high rank graduate of the Augustean or even of Caesar’s army, maybe a military tribune, as the model for the figure. However, his cerulean cloak could allow the identification with a Magister Equitum (cavalry commander) being the cerulean and blue associated with Neptune or Poseidon, protector of the horses. Also the combination of a cavalry shield, the parma, with the long cavalry spear and the Buggenum helmet (or the Boetian helmet restored as such) are visible on Volterra’s urns as fittings of 1st century BC Roman cavalrymen. If the man represented is a Magister Militum, and the original fresco referred to episodes of Roman history, the identification with Brutus can be plausible, although the fresco, before restoration, missed the upper part of the helmet. If the Geminae Pinnae (twin plumes) were originally visible on it, we cannot exclude the interpretation of the figure as the god Mars, a more consonant image with the celebration of the Julio-Claudian family and its divine origins. The type of represented uniform could suggest a dating to the late Consular period.