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  • image M1124

Base centre section of a carved Roman relief panel, perhaps from the Ara Pietatis Augustae in Rome


Luna marble

Height: 37cm
Width: 67cm
Thickness: 9cm

Museum number: M1124

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 152help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

The centre part of the base of a stem, tendril, and flower enrichment rising from flattened and overcurling acanthus leaves.

Both in its design and details this piece was modelled on and very close to the acanthus-leaf base centres of the lower outside relief panels of the Ara Pacis, but certain stylistic details - deeper shadowing and undercutting of the more twisted, animate foliate details - all point to work of a slightly later date, certainly no later than the middle of the Julio Claudian period. The dimensions of the fragment correspond exactly with the similar portions of these lower relief panels on the outside of the Ara Pacis, and the identical technique of transition into moulding and the fitting of the fillet-base on which the enriched panel rests both suggest that we are dealing with carving which was set in a manner parallel to those of Augustus' altar. These factors, coupled with the obviously high quality of the Soane fragment, give rise to the suggestion that it derives from another famous civic altar in earlier Imperial Rome: the Ara Pietatis Augustae.

The "Ara Pietatis Augustae", the dedicatory inscription of which was recorded by the Anonymous Pilgrim of Einsidlen1 was vowed by the Emporer Tiberius in 22 AD and erected by Claudius in 43 AD. Like the example of the Ara Pacis, which it appears to have imitated in most respects, the Ara Pietatis is seen on the reverses of Imperial coins; a number of examples of Sabina, wife to Hadrian2 show that the front had friezes in paired upper rectangles and floral decoration below. Bloch3 points out that while showing certain modifications in detail consistent with the advanced chronology, on the basis of a possible fragment of a laurel garland from the Ara Pietatis, found in the excavations of 1933 near S. Maria in Via Lata4, the style of the enrichment and actual decorative details of this second monument must have been very close to that of its now-more-famous counterpart. In speaking of the garland fragment Bloch summarised: "Quelle place pouvait occuper ce fragment de frise dans l'ornementation de l'Ara Pietatis? Sans doute prenait-il place dans une suite de guirlands dont devait se trouver décorée la face intérieure de l'enceinte de l'autel. Ainsi se prolongerait de parallélisme entre l'Autel de la Paix et celui de la Piété5 . Il faut supposer alors l'existence d'une seconde série d'ornamentations florales pour garnit le champ inférieur de la face extérieure de l'enceinte, en dessous de la frise de bas-reliefs. La répresentation de l'Ara Pietatis sur la monnaie . . . indique, en effect, de façon sommaire, mais cepedant fort nette, la présence d'une décoration florale sur le pourtour extérieur de l'enceinte. L'indication est absolument la même sur les monnaies qui figurent l'Ara Pacis" 6. Bloch concludes that it is less probable that there was no interior decoration and that we must attribute the garland relief to the long strips beneath the frieze of the procession, the sacrifice, and the temples.

When considered along with the Valle-Capranica reliefs let into the garden façade of the Villa Medici, the main panels identified by Bloch and others before him with the Ara Pietatis, and other fragments from more recent discoveries, an attribution of this Soane panel fragment to the Ara Pietatis takes us further along the road to a hypothetical reconstruction of this monument. Another, and now probably lost, base piece of the enriched lower panelling of the Ara Pietatis may be the fragment drawn by Robert Adam (Adam Vol. 26, no.69), in the Soane Museum collection. This small section shows the characteristic base moulding and parts of two adjoining acanthus scrolls in an arrangement only somewhat unlike that of the Ara Pacis.

Schöner states in his more recent study of Roman foliage that this fragment along with Soane M46 are parts of the same piece and date to the Hadrianic period.
His observation appears very likely, but Vermeule's date (see above) seems more convincing.

1 CIL, VI, 562; Dessau 202.
2 Mattingly and Sydenham, R.I.C., II, pl. XIV, no. 290; RMCCRE, III, pl. 66, nos. 8ff.
3 R. Bloch,"L'Ara Pietatis Augustae", in Nél. D'arch. et. D'hist., LVI, 1939, pp. 81ff.; article and illustrations reprinted in Cagiano de Azovedo, Le Antichità di Villa Medici, Roma, 1951.
4 Bloch, p. 116, fig. 14; A. M. Colini, in Rendiconti, XI, 1935, pp. 41ff.
5 Compare with Moretti, pls. VIII, IX; figs. 10, 136ff.
6 Bloch, p. 117f. Compare with Petersen, Ara Pacis Augustae, p. 194 ff., fig. 60; Moretti, p. 117.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Unrecorded (see below).


I. S. Ryberg, Rites of the State Religion in Roman Art, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, XXII, 1955, p. 67, pl. XVIII, fig. 34b.
C. Vermeule, Roman Imperial Art in Greece and Asia Minor, pp. 33, 34, 46.
Günther Schörner, Römische Rankenfriese, Mainz 1995, p. 156, no, 105a, pl. 74, 1.

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