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LOT 0642

GBP (£) 40,000 - 50,000
EUR (€) 47,460 - 59,330
USD ($) 51,680 - 64,610

34 1/4" (69.7 kg, 87 cm including stand.).

A finely carved and detailed marble sculpture depicting a river god; the figure with broad shoulders and pronounced musculature; the head slightly raised, the animated face with startled expression, wide eyes, and parted lips; the hair and beard characteristically shaggy; the deep incisions between the locks of hair creating a dramatic chiaroscuro effect; a cloak draped around the left shoulder and right hip, pulled across to meet the left wrist; a horn of plenty in the left hand and female nude, with hands behind her back and band to the chest, at his left shoulder; at the left knee, a putto holding a tympanum aloft, nude but for a diagonal crossband to the chest, the head of a bearded man visible below his feathered wing; at the right knee, the head of a horse, facing downwards, with finely detailed curling mane; beneath, the head of a beardless young man with flowing hair; the back flat and uncarved; probably once part of a larger piece.

The convention of representing rivers and oceans anthropomorphically began in classical Greece, where they were often identified with local deities and heroes, and depicted reclining. It was used during the Hellenistic period, particularly in the East, to denote local identity, with personifications of rivers often appearing on coins. During the Roman period, this identification of river gods with localities became used ‘in triumphal imagery to represent locations of Roman victories or conquered territories’ (Huskinson, p.249). This is true of the personification of the river Jordan depicted on the Arch of Titus in Rome, commemorating Titus’ victory in Judaea; the god was depicted as a sick old man, being carried away on a bier. The pained expression of the god in this lot may suggest a similar identification with a conquered locale.

River gods are commonly depicted with putti or cupids, as here, denoting the fertility bestowed by a river; the most extreme example of this is the colossal personification of the Nile displayed at the Palazzo del Senatore, Rome, which has sixteen. The complex iconography of this piece is noteworthy, and the dense detail may have been intended to evoke a vivid sense of chaos or disarray. Whilst the putto represents fertility, the tympanum in his hands may indicate a connection to the cult of Cybele, the Near Eastern Great Mother, whose worship continued into the Imperial period. If this god is indeed connected to a particular locale, it may have been in the eastern Empire. The cornucopia in the god’s hand, although conventional, is mean and empty, perhaps also suggesting subjugation. The female figure at his shoulder may depict a water nymph, although, with her arms twisted behind her back, as though bound, it is possible that she is intended to represent a captive. The god’s shaggy hair and beard, observable in almost all Roman river personifications, symbolise flowing water.

Property of a London collector, by descent 1950s.

Campbell, B., Rivers and the Power of Ancient Rome, (UNC Press Books, 2012).

Gais, R “Some Problems of River God Iconography” American Journal of Archaeology 1978, pp.355-70.

Huskinson, J – “Rivers of Roman Antioch”, E. Stafford and J.Herrin, Personifications in the Greek World: From Antiquity to Byzantium (Ashgate Press, 2005) pp. 247-264.

Kleiner, F.S. A History of Roman Art, Enhanced Edition (Cengage Learning, 2010).

Ostrowski, J.A., Personifications of Rivers in Greek and Roman Art, (Jagiellonian University Press 1991).