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image M1254

Roman sundial: an hour segment supported by a figure of Atlas

Antonine (138-192 AD) or later

Italian marble

Height (overall): 52cm
Height (figure): 22cm

Museum number: M1254

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 183help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

A kneeling figure of Atlas supports a concave quarter-circle. The inner surface and top edge of the circle are set out with incised lines to form a solar division of twelve hour-units in groups of three and three band divisions cutting across these from back top to front bottom.

From the drillwork, garden sculpture of the Antonine period or later.

The arrangement of this sundial depends on a Hellenistic type analogous to the Atlas supporting a zodiacal sphere in Naples1. Between the Naples statue and the Soane sundial lie creations such as the Antonine group of Jupiter Capitolinus enthroned in a zodiacal circle, all supported by a similar Atlas, in the Coffeehouse of the Villa Torlonia-Albani, Rome2. A much simpler arrangement, in the furniture tradition, appears in a Roman sundial in the left courtyard of the Naples Museum, where the dial rises out of two lion feet at the sides of the base3. A technical discussion of the workings of these horologia appears in Darenberg-Saglio4, where a more elaborate Pergamene example of the Naples type is shown5.

Similar small figures of the Atlas type used for furnishing supports are found in bronze6. Copies of these bronzes were produced in the Renaissance to support inkwells, as in the early Sixteenth Century Paduan example in the Soane collection (Museum no. A22; also Planiscig, Andrea Riccio, p.482).

Turning back to Roman art and to the functional in major funerary sculpture, we find that on the supports of a large and well known Orestes sarcophagus in the Lateran, the closest chronological parallel to this sundial7, identical small kneeling figures of Atlas are sculptured on the front as if bearing the entire weight of the marble on their arms. Similar supports have been found separately and with other sarcophagi (as the Niobid sarcophagus in the same collection8), but generally it is rare to have the complete ensemble preserved intact. In decorative relief of the type of which there are so many examples in the Soane, three such kneeling Atlantes support the upper moulding on the rectangular and segmental base of a Piranesi-type, baetylus-shaped candelabrum in the Louvre. The concave areas between the surfaces carrying the Atlas figures are enriched with the baluster-type baetylus or candelabrum shaft in relief (see below, Soane nos. 207-210). The patches are reworkings testify to the antiquity of these immediate portions of the ensemble9.

For the relationship of these figures to the monumental, sculptured colonnades of Agrigentum, Cyrene, or Pompeii, with their heroic-scale uses of Atlas-like figures as architectural supports, see C.Vermeule and N. Neuerburg10.

1 Inv. No. 6374; A. Ruesch, etc, Guida Illustrata del Museo Nazionale di Napoli, Naples, 1908, p. 169, no. 579; S. Reinach, Répertoire de la Statuaire Grecque et Romaine, Paris, 1987, I, p. 468, 1; probably from the centre of a Roman fountain.
2 S. Reinach, Répertoire de la Statuaire Grecque et Romaine, vols II-VI, Paris, 1898, II, 2, p. 424, no. 4; W. Helbig, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen Klassischer Altertümer in Rom, Tubingen, 1963, II, p. 458, no. 1929: enough of the zodiacal circle and Atlas are antique to justify the restoration. The restorer was probably more accurate than he realized in placing the restored but antique figure in the centre.
3 Cp. the sundial of the Stabian Thermae, see P. Gusman, Pompei: The City, its Life and Art, trans. F. Simmons and M. Jourdain, London, 1900, p. 146.
4 C. V. Daremberg and E. Saglio, Dictionnaire des Antiquités Grecques et Romaines, Paris, 1877-1919, III, 1, under Horologium.
5 loc. cit., fig. 3884.
6 As the small bearded figures: H.B. Walters, Catalogue of the Bronzes, Greek, Roman and Etruscan, in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum, no. 1440, pl. XXVIII; S. Reinach, Répertoire de Reliefs Grecs et Romains, Paris, 1909-12, II, 2, p. 810, no.3; S. Reinach, Répertoire de Reliefs Grecs et Romains, Paris, 1909-12, III, p.126, nos. 2, 4, 8.
7 S. Reinach, Répertoire de Reliefs Grecs et Romains, Paris, 1909-12, II, p. 279; C. Robert, Die antiken Sarkophag-Reliefs, Berlin, 1890, II, no. 55, pl. LIV; Strong, RS, pl. 78.
8 C. Robert, Die antiken Sarkophag-Reliefs, Berlin, 1890, III, 3, pl.C, no. 315.
9 Drawn in S. Reinach, Répertoire de la Statuaire Grecque et Romaine, Paris, 1897, I, p.127, no. 2.
10 C. Vermeule and N. Neuerburg, Catalogue of the Ancient Art in the J. Getty Museum, Malibu, CA, 1973, p.14, no. 25: a satyr or Pan as a figure in the traditional, canonical pose of Atlas standing and supporting the heavens on his shoulders.

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