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image A37

Cast of a relief of the ‘Escape of Cloelia and her companions’

Bronze cast

Museum number: A37

Curatorial note

This piece appears to be a bronze cast of a 17th century Italian marble relief at Wilton House, Wiltshire.

Cloelia is a semi-legendary figure in early Roman history. In 508 BC Roman hostages were given to the Etruscan King Lars Porsena under the terms of a peace treaty ending the war between ancient Rome and Clusium. Cloelia, one of the hostages, fled from the Clusian camp with a group of Roman virgins, first on horseback and then by swimming the River Tiber. The Clusians demanded her return and the Romans handed her over. However, Porsena was so impressed that he allowed her to choose half the remaining hostages to be freed - she chose the young Roman boys so that the war could continue. The story is recorded by the Roman writers Livy and Valerius Maximus.

Sadly we have no maker or precise date for this bronze relief. Soane's own inventories (drawn up in draft just before his death in 1837) give no information about its origins describing it as 'Bas relief bronze subject The Escape of Cloelia and her Companions from Porsenna King of Etruria'. In 1906, for the first time, the Museum's records include a note 'The original antique is at Wilton'. Soane owned the cast by 28 October1826 when it is shown in a watercolour of the 'Lobby to the Breakfast Room' on the ground floor where it remained in 1837 when he died.

Its facture is curious because it is very thin and fragile - almost like copper sheet

At the time of Soane's death in 1837 this bronze was displayed in a handsome mahogany frame. The original frame does not survive (it was probably removed when the Lobby was dismantled and all its objects relocated in 1889-90) but the piece has now been reframed in a replica and is back in its original position in the 'Lobby' following the restoration of that space in 2016.

The Wilton marble is mentioned in the earliest comprehensive guide book to Wilton in 1751 (A Description of the Curiosities in Wilton-House by Richard Cowdry). In that guide the piece is listed as in 'The Basso Relievo Room' and described as 'An A[lto] Relievo, the story of Claelia. The River Tyber represented by Romulus and Remus playing with the Wolf on its Banks. There are thirteen Women and four Horses'. At the beginning of the guide Cowdry points out that 'The Antiques of this Collection contain the whole of Cardinal Richelieu's and Cardinal Mazarin's and the greatest part of the Earl of Arundel's; besides several particular pieces purchased at different Times'. Unfortunately, there is no indication of whether or not this particular piece was regarded as an Antique at that time and whether or not it came from any of those collections - individual provenances are only mentioned for a very few pieces. In the later 'New Description of the Pictures ... and other Curiosities at Wilton', 9th ed., 1779 (p.33) the relief is listed amongst alto and basso relievos in the Great Hall as 'An Alto Relievo. The Story of Cloelia' with no further information.

The marble relief seems to be closely related to the painting of Cloelia Passing the Tiber by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, c.1630-40, today in the Louvre Museum, Paris. There is no obvious engraved source although the general elements, including the personification of the Tiber with a cornucopia (although male - in the Soane bronze and the 'Wilton' marble she is female) and the vignette of Romulus and Remus in the foreground appear in French engravings of the Escape of Cloelia by, for example, Galle, after Jan van der Straet.

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk