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  • image L69

A sliding counter-weight in the form of a bust of Minerva, from a steelyard or statera balance, also known as a Roman balance.

Bronze, with lead weight inset on base

Height (excluding base): 17.5cm
Height (bronze): 16cm

Museum number: L69

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 447help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

A helmeted, stylized bust of Minerva, clad in a chiton and aegis-like garment. The crest of the helmet is cast in the shape of a suspension ring at right angles to the face. In the square, moulded base of the bust the balance-weight is set, cast in roughly finished lead.

The so-called Roman balance or steelyard, originally known as the statera was already in use by Greek craftsmen in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Around 200 BC improved types were developed for use in the Roman Empire, often of bronze. The beam might have up to three suspension hooks for different sizes of load: the sliding counterweight was often designed artistically as in this case.1 A helmeted bust of Minerva, from the association with her divine powers and from the functional convenience of her headgear, was the standard form of steelyard balance weights throughout the later Roman Imperial period2. The concept of these steelyard weights traces back in sculpture to a helmeted bust of Athena of the prototype in the Greek Fourth Century of a bust in Southern France, published by Espérandieu3. For two illustrations of perfectly preserved Roman balances with the weight (Mercury and a Female Head) in use, see the two examples found in Rome and presently in the Conservatori collection4, and the numerous examples from Pompeii in the Naples Museum5.

The present steelyard bust belongs to the beginning of the late antique period judging from the treatment of the large, circular eyes and pupils and from the sharp division of the face from the stylized hair beneath the helmet, probably contemporary with the porphyry bust of Maximinus Daza (310-311 AD) in Cairo6. For an earlier (Second Century? Gallo-Roman?) steelyard bust of similar design and subject in the Musée de Mariemont, see F26, pl.61 of the published catalogue of that collection.

An impressive drawing of a Roman bronze steelyard balance in the Royal Library at Windsor (11186) gives a very good impression of such objects. The anonymous Italian 17th century drawing shows a very similar 'Minerva-weight' to this one in Soane's collection7.

1 For an account of the history of the steelyard balance see Erich Robens, Shanath Amarasiri A. Jayaweera and Suzanne Kiefer, Balances: Instruments, Manufacturers, History, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, 2014, p.169.
2 For comparative types from the first three centuries of the Empire, see De Ridder, Louvre Bronzes, II, p. 163, no. 3284, pl. 125. Daremberg-Saglio, Dict., III, fig. 4481, p. 1229, etc.; B.M. Bronzes, No. 1060, p. 90; de Clercq Bronzes, p. 210f., nos. 303-4; and Fouquet Bronzes, p. 37, no. 58, pl. XIV.
3 IX, p.332, no.7159.
4 Jones, Cons., p. 290f., nos. 14 and 17, pl. 116.
5 Chiurazzi, p. 379-382.
6 Strong, Art in Ancient Rome, p. 191f., fig. 548.
7 The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo, exhib.cat. 1993, cat. no. 42, p. 87.

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