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Section of the lower part of a Roman cornice

Later second century AD

Luna marble

Height: 25cm
Width: 78cm
Thickness: 12cm

Museum number: S13

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 94help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

The enrichment of this fragment consists of a fillet, an ovolo enriched with egg and dart, enriched cyma reversa and a dentil course between which are the remains of paired eye-rings near the top. Although the assurance of rings between the dentils has been heretofore cited as a hallmark of Flavian and Severan architecture, this fragment belongs to a group which, in spite of the "eye-glasses" must be dated to the later second century, prior to the Severan building. The similar leaf and acorn work above the dentils is paralleled by an undated cornice in the Forum and the Commodus (180-192 AD) work of the theatre of Ostia. There are also fragments, probably from this unlocated Ostia Forum area work, in the Antiquario Communale. The Ostia Forum fragment has egg and tongue, which exists beside egg and dart at the later date; the egg and dart drops out after the Flavian period and does not come back on a large scale until after the middle of the second century.

Professor J.M.C. Toynbee notes that 'of Rabirius, the architect of Domitian's palace on the Palatine, we know no more than that his name was Roman'1 and refers to the suggestion that the two little rings, or "eye-glasses", found between the dentils on Flavian entablature represent Rabirius' signature2. In addition to the palace commissions for the emperor Domitian (81-96 AD), Rabirius is said to have planned many other public works at Rome3; banked up the river Volturno; and formed the Via Domitiana, 40 miles in length, from Pozzuolo to Sinuessa with a bridge over the same river and a triumphal arch at the junction of the road with the Via Appia.

In the Severan revival of Flavian architectural motives, the little eyes were brought into use but in a setting which, recalling Domitian in undercutting and shadow, was Severan in crowding of ornament, mixing of details and drill work. See, for example, the well executed Severan cornice fragments in the Museo Chiaramonti of the Vatican4 and the section set in the garden wall beyond the Leda Gallery of the Villa Torlonia-Albani.

1 J.M.C. Toynbee, Some Notes on Artists in the Roman World, Collection Latomus, vol. VI, (Brussels: Latomus, 195I), p.12.
2 J.M.C. Toynbee, Bullettino della Commissione Archeologica Comunale di Roma, 1918, pp. 35f.
3 Martial, Epigrams, VII, 56, X, 71.
4 Nos. 23a; 1730 and 20; 1216, from the same cornice: VCI, pls. 86, and 51.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Rome; collected 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, p. 40. Labelled in the Tatham Drawing, "The Prince Borghese's fragments".


Tatham: Drawings, 3A.

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