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Home > Auctions > 29th November 2022 > Gallo-Roman Statuette of God Taranis on Horseback

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LOT 0297

Sold for (Inc. bp): £32,500

5 1/8 in. (629 grams total, 13 cm high including stand).

A bronze figure of the god Taranis, naked on horseback; the god shown youthful and muscular with centre-parted hair and neat beard, his right arm bent and hand clutching a thunderbolt, left hand extended holding the reins(?) of the horse, legs spread to sit comfortably on the back of his steed; the horse in an advancing pose with one foreleg raised, mouth pierced to accept separate reins; bridle with plume between the pricked ears, swept mane; saddlecloth with raised border on its back, rectangular slot above the horse's rump; bronze model wheel with six short spokes, ribbed detailing to both faces; the figure and horse modelled separately but found as one complex; mounted on a custom-made stand.

Collection du Château de Langres, circa 1900-1910.
Arnaud family collection, Poitiers, 1946-1998.
From the private collection of the French expert Monsieur Jean François Bigot until circa 1990.
Acquired from the above by Monsieur Jean-Pierre Matiz, France.
Accompanied by an original French cultural passport number 234312.
Accompanied by an academic report by Dr Raffaele D'Amato and Stephen Pollington.
This lot has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art and is accompanied by search certificate no.114446-196370.

Cf. Reinach, S., Repertoire de la statuarie grecque et romaine, Paris, 1930, p.17, nos.1 and 3; Boucher, S., Recherches sur les bronzes figures de Gaule pré-romaine et romaine, Rome, 1976, pp.135-137, 162, nos.229-230, for similar figures; Duval, P.M., Les Dieux de la Gaule, Paris, 2002; Green, M., Gods of the Celts, Gloucester, 1986; Moscati, S. (ed.), I Celti, Milan, 1991, p.539.

The mythological figure Taranis was mentioned by the Roman poet Lucan in the 2nd century A.D. in his poem Pharsalia as a Gaulish deity to whom human sacrificial offerings were made, alongside two other gods named Esus and Toutatis. The name 'Taranis' is a metathetic variant of *tanaris, meaning 'thunder', and the god appears to be associated primarily with the thunderbolt and the wheel. Some inscriptions mentioning Taranis may simply be referring to 'thunder' as a natural phenomenon. Deities bearing six- or eight-spoked wheels occur elsewhere in Iron Age contexts, such as one of the inner panels of the Gundestrup cauldron where a mighty bearded figure holds a half-wheel while surrounded by stylised horses. Such wheels also appear upon Celtic helmets in Roman Art (Wilcox, 1985, p.11).

A bronze figurine of the bearded god standing on a base was found at Le Chatelet, Gourzon, Haute-Marne, France where he holds aloft a thunderbolt in his right hand and rests a wheel against his left leg. This is now in the Musée d'Archéologie National, Paris. The present figure evidently owes much to classical Graeco-Roman interpretations of Jupiter as a bearded sky-god with the thunderbolt, visualised as a slender biconvex missile weapon. Just as Jupiter may have power in the afterlife, Taranis may also have had power over life and death if that is what the presence of wheel-symbols on tombstones signifies. It is likely that the figure is a product of the workshops of Gaul in the last century B.C. or first century A.D., when the worship of the old Gaulish deities was being modified by contact with the Empire.