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image M831

Fragment of a small ornamental trophy(?): part of the right breast of a cuirass from a Roman relief

69-96 AD

Pentelic marble

Height: 23cm
Width: 17cm

Museum number: M831

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 290help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

A fragment of the right breast of a cuirass(?) with part of the shoulder covering-strap, lion-headed buckle, fastening and a section of encircling drapery along the lower edge remaining. The right nipple is expressed by an incised circle. The fastening is carved in detail to show the lion's head with ring, hook, and catch-bar, and the cross attachment joining to the drapery. On the strap, within a rolled-edge border, appears the half-draped lower torso and legs of a Nike(?) figure facing [?], weight on the left foot.

For cuirass-torsos with the similar scheme of shoulder strap fastening compare this one with an example in Mantua1 which shows a Victory blowing a trumpet on the strap, a lion's head and the drapery below. Cuirasses often have a cloth belt around the waist just below the breasts2.

The fact that this piece is finished around the inside following the curve of the outer surface and has a smooth edge shows that it is probably a fragment of a trophy ensemble rather than a cuirass-torso. The presence of a figure from a Greek sculpture rather than the rough mail of barbarian armour on the cuirass or even of a saqum indicates that it is probably from a decorative fragment of a symbolic nature rather than a representation of an actual trophy of barbarian (German, Dacian, Parthian, etc.) arms, such as abound in Roman imperial triumphal iconography3.

In the left niche at the entrance to the smaller inner court of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, embedded in one of the two well known piles of architectural and sculptural fragments, mostly it seems from the Farnese excavations on the Palatine Hill, there is the left breast from the shoulder of a colossal pallumen tumed trophy which is a decorative parallel to this Soane fragment on a larger scale, but perhaps from a related decorative ensemble. The Farnese "trophy" features (a) similar trophy-bearing Victoria (e) at the left shoulder a strap which is affixed to the breast-plate/cuirass by hook and eye, all beneath the overfalling mantle. At the lower left can be seen the remains of the wing of a figure from the central motive. Plates II and III of F. Bianchini's Del Palazzo de' Cesari, published in 1738 and giving a history of early archaeology on the Palatine, show a column base from Domitian's Aula Regia with trophied cuirasses incorporated in the high relief sculpture of the plinth.

An alternative derivation for this fragment is as the remains of a cuirass support for a large statue, such as a fragment of a right leg, with cuirass attached, once in the the Grimani Collection in Venice and now presumed lost4 or in the famous Dioscuroi on the Quirinale.5

The fragment of a colossal marble cuirassed statue among the excavators' spoils in the Palazzo Farnese has been identified with Domitian's monuments in the Domus Flavia (Augustana) on the Palatine. The statue, if not of Domitian himself then of his father Vespasian or his brother Titus, stood as pendant to a ruler in the heroic nude, cloak over his left shoulder.6 When set among the dark green stone statues of gods and heroes like the Hercules in Parma, these white marble Flavians (the nude ruler doubtless Domitian in imitation of Alexander the Great's successors) must have turned the vast architectural setting into a dazzling spectacle. The architectural fragments with trophies, such as this Soane piece, echoed the themes (and the grandeur) of the large-scale statues. No one now knows just where these statues stood in relation to one another, but they can be presumed to have filled the side niches of the Aula Regia or the intercolumnations of the Basilica in the heart of the imperial palace.

1 Labos, II, 35; S. Reinach, Répertoire de Reliefs Grecs et Romains, Vol II, Paris, 1909-12, p. 584, no. 6.
2 S. Reinach, Répertoire de la Statuaire Grecque et Romaine, Paris IV, p. 364, no. 6; p. 365, no. 2; Hekler, in JOAI, XIX-XX, 1919, pp. 202ff.
3 Ad. Reinach, in C.V. Daremberg and E. Saglio, Dictionnaire dea Antiquités Grecques et Romaines, Paris, 1877-1919, V. 1, pp. 514ff.
4 Neugebauer, in Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, 56, 1941, pp. 182ff., fig. 5.
5 C.P. Picard, Manuel d'archéologie grecque: La sculpture, Paris, 1935, II, p. 309f.
6 K. Stemmer, Anzeiger, Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, 1971, pp. 563-580, figs

Provenance help-art-provenance

This object is shown in J.M. Gandy's view of the Soane's Museum, 1811, SM P384.

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