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  • image M35
Roman fragment SM M35. ©A.C. Cooper (colour) Ltd

Foliate base, shaft and lower part of an Antique fountain

117-138 AD
Probably Hadrianic

Luna marble

Height: 190cm
Diameter (top): 30cm

Museum number: M35

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 180help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

On a round base carved with acanthus-leaf enrichment rises the shaft of the lower section of the fountain. Study of the Tatham drawing indicates that the upper part of the first decorative unit of the shaft has been broken and that the upper unit and figure, considered a separate piece in Tatham's notes, were not rejoined until modern times; although the upper part of the lower course of acanthus leaves, the decorative enrichment of the lower section, may be missing, the top units are undoubtedly part of the same original ensemble. From the top of the second unit, with similar long acanthus leaves running up the sides, springs the remains (the hips to the waist) of a nude Fountain Nymph holding a large shell before her in the conventional pose; the water spout emerged from the forward section of the shell so as to throw the water out to the front and probably down into a basin in front of the shaft.

This fountain is from the Villa Adriana at Tivoli, for there is a replica with minor variations in the foliate details but with identical base (Diam: 51 cm) and plinth (H: 8.5 cm) measurements in the Antiquario in the former Casino Fede on the site. The marble likewise is the same fine quality Luna. In addition, among a large number of decorative fragments with numerous parallels in and from the Villa Adriana and in the Vatican Magazines, there is what may well be the complement to the Casino Fede fragments: a section of the upper part of a similar fountain from the start of the foliage and including the lower torso of the nymph and half the seashell. Carving of similar fine decorative quality is in evidence in spite of the Vatican fragment's battered condition. If we find a number of these fountains we can no doubt imagine them as having formed a regular feature of the decorative carving, much as the celebrated large marble vases with which we are all so familiar.

Aside from the elaborate foliate decoration, this is the simpler Roman imperial fountain design, and is paralleled by the base of a similar ensemble (perhaps also terminating in the figure of a Nymph in a shell) in the Aquileia Museum1. The base of a more complex example from the Villa Patrizi (Via Nomentana, Rome) in the Museo delle Terme, Rome2 consists of a figurated fountain base of shape similar to the Soane example set on a tripod. In addition to the foliate decorative carving, the base is ornamented with figures of Erotes, nymphs, snails, and twin-bodied Sphinxes at the angles. The motives are primarily those associated with native Italian mythological freshwater geography. Mrs Strong3 typified this decoration as Augustan floral enrichment carried to its extreme limit. In the fragment garden near the Leda Gallery of the Villa Torlonia-Albani there is a lower, broader, more heavily carved fountain base, of similar general design, which is decorated with Bacchic and related motives4.

The Nymph with the shell is a convention found in a number of Roman reliefs where fountain Nymphs appear5 and in free standing statuary. The type also formed part of a fountain or a fountain accessory in Hellenistic and derivative art. The lower half of the broken off statue from the Cook collection, Richmond, which terminates in legs covered with shell-like folds of drapery, probably performed a function similar to the Soane variant6. This half-draped figure of the fountain nymph who holds a shell before her, the statuary type from which this fountain sculpture derives, is based directly in the similarly clothed Hellenistic modification of the Aphrodite Anadyomene7. Can we alternatively suppose a group of the Aphrodite drying or/and unknotting her hair and the attendant who stands by with water in a seashell? The second figure when found alone was then adapted to both a decorative and functional purpose, the Aphrodite continuing in her original role as a separately constituted figure of the goddess at her toilet.

The half-figure nymph holding out a shell in front of her, in the Herakleion (Crete) Museum, is one of the finest Graeco-Roman examples surviving of this essentially Hellenistic figure. Adaptation to a fountain was a natural manifestation of Roman decorative functionalism8.

This fragment has been in its current location, placed as an eye-catcher to be viewed along the Museum Soiuth Passage from the Dome Area since Soane constructed the area where it stands, the Museum Corridor outside the Picture Room, in 1824-25. It is shown in situ in a watercolour view dated 24 September 1825 (Vol.82/110).

1 G. Brusin, Aquileia, p. 116, no. 1, fig. 69.
2 No. 40004; R. Paribeni, Le Terme di Diocleziano e il Museo Nazionale Romano, Roma, 1932, p. 269, no. 843; S. Reinach, Répertoire de la Satuaire Grecque et Romaine, vols II-VI, Paris, 1904?, IV, 325, 2.
3 SR I, fig. 32, p. 54.
4 Photo Alinari no. 27729, 'Silenos and Bacchic Emblems'.
5 E.g. W. Amelung, Die Sculpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, Berlin, 1903-08, II, Loggia Scoperta, no.5. pl.83 also on a capital in the Baths of Caracalla: P. Gusman, L'Art décoratif de Roma de la fin de la république au IV siécle, Paris, 1910, I, pl. 43.
6 J.H.S. XXVIII, 1908, p.18f., no. 26; pl. XIII, with stopped hole in shell (?).
7 See P. Lévêque and G. Donnay, L'Art Grec du Musée de Mariemont, Beligique, exhibition catalogue, Musée d'Aquitaine, (Bordeaux, 1967), p. 75, nos.G 25f., and G 69; and compare S. Reinach, Répertoire de la Statuaire Grecque et Romaine, Paris, 1898, II, 1, p. 339 and 405.
8 See N. Platon, A Guide to the Archaeological Museum of Heraclion, Herakleion, 1959, p. 154, no. 34 (from Gortyna); also, especially, p. 155, no. 154 (the statue mentioned above).

Provenance help-art-provenance

Rome; collected in Rome by Charles Heathcote Tatham for the architect Henry Holland during the 1790s. See Cornelius Vermeule, unpublished catalogue of the Antiquities at Sir John Soane's Museum, Introduction, transcription of Tatham letters, p. 40. Said to be from the Collection of Antonio d'Este, sculptor in Rome, 1795. Tatham has also written the word "Price" alongside.


Tatham: Etchings, 12; Drawings, 5.

Associated objects

Vol 82/110, watercolour showing this item in situ

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