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image S136

Small bull mounted on a carved 17th century base bearing the arms of the Trapani family of Sicily.

Bronze on carved alabaster base

Museum number: S136

Curatorial note

In the past there was uncertainty as to whether this small bull was an antique bronze or 17th century. However, following recent reappraisal, it is now considered likely to be a Roman votive bronze - perhaps related to the cult of Mithras. It is hard to think of any comparable animal sculpture in bronze on this very small scale in the 17th century - or any reason to produce it.

This is a lively piece, the bull standing on three legs in the act of pawing the ground with its head bent and its tail curved in a manner that is almost playful. The bronze has been de-patinated and then re-patinated, which accounts for the rather dull black surface. The gilt-bronze base plate on which the bull stands is later but has the same black surface with the gildng showing through.

The alabaster base is 17th century and features the arms of the Trapani family, a sickle representing the location of Trapani which is on a sickle-shaped peninsula (according to legend created when the Goddess Demeter dropped her sickle whilst searching for her daughter Persephone) - the ancient Greek name for Trapani was Drepanon, which in Greek means 'sickle'. Below are 5 towers: the defensive towers on the town walls.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Richard Cosway Sale, held by Mr. Stanley, 22-24 May 1821, second day, bronzes, Lot 67 ‘The bull breaking the egg, on a marble stand’, purchased for £2.12.6 [see SM Archive Sale Catalogues 1/33, a marked copy of the catalogue with receipt].

Exhibition history

Richard and Maria Cosway: Regency Artists of Taste and Fashion, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, 11 August - 29 October 1995; National Portrait Gallery, London, 17 November 1995 - 18 February 1996

Associated objects

m632, another similar


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