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Statue of Asklepios (or Aesculpius)

Coarse-grained Greek mainland marble

Height: 93cm, maximum
Height (excluding square base): 89cm
Height (head): 16cm
Height (body): 69cm

Museum number: M603

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 380help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

The elderly, bearded Asklepios stands with his weight on his right leg, his left foot turned slightly out. His lowered and extended right hand hold a rough hewn club about which is entwined a large serpent; the lower end rests on the roughly rectangular plinth and is joined to the body both by a puntello at the middle leading to the right knee and in an unfinished, thick rectangular area leading to the side of the leg above the ankle. The area between the bottom of the himation and the sandalled feet is also left in the same fairly smoothed condition of the plinth. He wears a large, rolled-border himation the ends of which hang down over the front and back of his left shoulder and which is wrapped in loose folds so as to leave the right breast and most of the stomach exposed. The hair, while bunched so as to hung either side of the forehead in loose tresses, is bound by a fillet, beneath which it again hangs down in flowing locks behind. The left hand held a scroll at the side; the antique rear end of this, complete with the indication of the rolled bottom edge, remains against the left side.

There are numerous statues of Asklepios in all sizes and in a variety of poses scattered throughout the public and private collections of Europe and America; many of these are closely related types restored with alien heads and the attributes of the god of medicine (the key one being the serpent-entwined staff), but a large number retain sufficient of this essential object or the peculiar arrangement of himation and torso which identify them as belonging to one of about a half-dozen groups in which these figures may divided. These types have been the subject of endless debate and of much published material. Some seek to trace the various modifications back to originals, often the cult or (where the cult statue is seated) the secondary figure of the great Greek and Hellenistic healing shrines, Epidauros, Porgamum, Cos, Mantineia, Samos and Athens; these originals have been variously placed in the later Hellenistic period, the Fourth Century, and as far back as the Zeus types of the great Fifth Century masters, Myron, Pheidias and Alkamenes (e.g. Furtwängler, Mp., pp. 186-190 and list of 11 statues; Bieber, Ath. Mitt., 38, 1913, 365; idem, Cassel, 14). Other investigations have concentrated on sorting out obvious contaminations and cross-influences that took place in these relatively simply and kindredly conceived Asklepios types, endeavouring with subsidiary evidence such as bronzes, terracottas from known finds, and coins to localize the new Hellenistic types and explain the chronology and reasoning behind the modifications. In those investigations coin types of the Hellenistic and Greek Imperial periods have been of the greatest importance because types known from literature are often shown in their aedicula(niches), and the otherwise unknown presence of the god on a series of reverses substantiates belief that the city in question possessed a well known statue of the god, (e.g. Cook, Zeus, II, 2, p.1078, and bibliography; Waldhauer, Die Antiken Skulpturen der Ermitage, I, p.10ff. treats the Leningrad statues in a learned series of investigations which cover the problem and previous works until 1928; Neugebauer, Asklepios, 78, Winckelmannspr., 1921; Kaschnitz-Neugebauer, VMC, p.113ff., nos. 246-252). The head of the Soane statue, to which it undoubtedly belongs in spite of the patch at the neck, belongs to a group perhaps derived from the Asklepios of Melos and related by Amelung (Ausonia, 3, 1908, p.127) to a master evidently in the school of Bryaxis. A similar head, one of many such made more enigmatic by separation from their torsi, in the Vatican store (Kaschnitz-Weinberg, p.104, no.222; and style and probably came from a similar, small Roman shrine statue. From the predelection which the Romans of the later Republic possessed for the later Hellenistic style of the followers of Bryaxis' types in the cult statues of the city temples (e.g. Jupiter Capitolinus, Serapis) we can safely say that the image of the Temple in the Tiber rebuilt 62 BC (Platner and Ashby, p.2f.) and reflected on Imperial medallions (Toynbee, Roman Medallions, p.214; not the young, beardless Asklepios, who survives in few copies, loc.cit., BMCCRE, I, Introd., p. CCXVII), bore features of the Bryaxis cast and gave fresh impetus to the numerous, chiefly under-lifesize variations of the Imperial period.

There is one element in the Soane statue which we must consider a variation introduced into several separate and crossbred statues probably not earlier than the Roman Second Century AD. Throughout all the Attic, Hellenistic, Pergamene, and earlier Roman Imperial copies and modifications, when it does not hold the serpent-staff the left hand is placed on the hip, in the drapery, or at the side. The representations of Asklepios with a rolled scroll held in the left hand are few and stylistically far between; this is of course excluding renaissance and later restorations for which there is no basis other than current archaeological taste and study of the few genuine examples. For instance the scroll is restored along these lines in the right hand of the colossal Asklepios with a second century AD portrait head in the Louvre reserves (Reinach-Clarac, p.175, no.7?; cp. also p.291, no.3, Villa Doria-Pamfili). The scroll held by the Soane statue, although partially restored along with the hand, is correctly added, for, as stated, a considerable portion of the rearward end adheres to the statue in its original condition. The closest counterpart to the Soane Askelpios in this respect is a likewise under lifesize statue in the Ludovisi Collection of the Museo Nazionale Romano (Aurigemma, Terme di Diocleziano, p.113, no.321 (6645); Postcard P. Chauffourier no.1713; Einzelaufnahmen, no.272). Although the right arm and staff have restorations, the left with the scroll is untouched; close analysis is made difficult by the fact that the upper half of the head is restored, but this statue appears to be a Roman second or even early third century adaptation of a later Hellenistic figure. In the Roman Forum, in a recessed niche beyond the Temple of Castor and Pollux, and in the Juturna precinct, there is a statue of the Asklepios type with the right hand on the hip and the body leaning on the serpent-staff at the left side (Notizie d. Scavi, 1901, p.11f, fig. 75). He holds a roll in the left hand. Below, at the left, there is a small figure of a Gallus sacrificing a cock before the ?; the style as well as the taste of the work bespeaks the later Imperial period.

The earlier antecedents of the Forum group are found in two other derivations of a later Hellenistic original, both also from Rome - notably in a large statue in an upstairs gallery of the Pallazzo Pitti, Florence (no.669-205; Photo. Alinari no. 2572; Amelung, Führer, p.135, no.188; Einzelaufnahmen, no.219ff.). Askelpios is leaning his left arm on a snakeless staff and places the right on his hip. The mostly restored left hand and scroll appear to be correctly executed, for the end of the latter and at least one finger remain on the head which leans on the hand. The head is patched, reset, and reworked but appears to be ancient and to belong to the statue. The figure is strongly reminiscent of elderly male figures on later, sentimentalised Fourth Century Attic grave stelai - in hair style, facial type, and the strong leaning position. The associations of this particular Asklepios with the later antique are strengthened by its reproduction as the figure on the ivory diptych from Rome and now in the Liverpool Museum (Reinach, RR, II, p.455, no.3; Delbrueck, p.217, no.55; H. Graeven, in Röm. Mitt., XXVIII, p.220ff., pls. III, IV, Die Consulardiptychen, with Telephoros at his foot and a statuary type - Hygiea in the opposite panel. Both these main figures are in relief set on bases and in aedicula, which alone should give ample hint as to their derivation.

Another representation which further establishes Asklepios with the scroll as a product in popularity at least of later antique sculptural modification is a black jasper, so-called 'Gnostic' intaglio among the unexhibited gems in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (no. N4166). The composition features Aesculapius and Salus: our divinity, a figure quite close to the type of the Sestertii of Caracalla, is brought even closer to the Soane statue by the clear presence of a scroll in his left hand. In all other respects he conforms to convention, and Salus who stands at the right is the well-known type feeding snakes in her left hand from a cup in the right.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Purchased by Soane at Lord Bessborough's Sale, 7 April 1801, Lot 80, £15.15s. and said to have come from Cardinal Polignac's Museum.

Literature

Michaelis, p.473, no.1.
Description, 1930, p.80.


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