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Torso of a statue of the muse Terpsichore (the muse of dancing and song)

Pentelic marble

Height: 47cm

Museum number: M1024

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 365help-vermeule-catalogue-number

On display: Basement South Passage
All spaces are in No. 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields unless identified as in No. 12, Soane's first house. For tours https://www.soane.org/your-visit

Curatorial note

This fragment is from a less than life-size female figure wearing a long, sleeved, double chiton girt beneath the breasts, the overgarment pinned on her shoulders, and a himation which is wrapped about her waist and draped over her left arm. Around her left shoulder is a long, broad fillet which joins the himation near her left wrist and at the right side. The figure held a large cithara in the left hand and is therefore identified as Terpsichore, the Muse of the dance.

In the Museo Archeologico, Florence, there are a series of standing Muse statues from the Julio-Claudian theatre of Ferento, excavated mainly in 1902-10 by Rossi, Danieli, and Balestra. Of the nine Muses, recognised by their characteristic attributes, only Polymnia (muse of the heroic hymns) is missing. The figures of Melpomene (muse of the tragedy) and Euterpe (muse of music, lyric, poetry) are notable because they wear a broad band, similar to the fillet on this Soane fragment, about the chiton just below the breasts1, but only Terpsichore, the cithara-bearing Muse2, has an additional strap from the right shoulder to the waist at the left side beneath the instrument. This board holds the cape at the right shoulder buckle and over the chiton strap at the left side. The Soane Terpsichore features a looser arrangement of the straps because of the fact that the long cape is turned into a himation draped around the waist and beneath the musical instrument on the left arm. The head, let in separately, was no doubt of the same Roman modification of a fourth century type as that set above this corresponding Ferento figure, although there is always the possibility, as in the case of the Torlonia replica of the Melpomene of Miletus, that the head was a portrait of a Roman girl. The Ferento Muses are thought both on the basis of these heads and their drapery to mirror the style of Skopas.

The most explicit representation of the muse closest to the type of this torso, with all her sisters who are also clearly defined, is in a funerary relief on a sarcophagus from the Capitoline which is now in the Louvre Museum.3 She is again correctly identified as Terpsichore and, like Euterpe and Melpomene, wears a broad belt and also a cloak over her left shoulder as she plays her cithara.

The Muses grouped in high relief on the long sides of Roman sarcophagi of Asia Minor type (without the arcades) also give an excellent idea of how this figure looked in the company of her sisters, as Euterpe on the splendid, fragmentary example from Asia Minor in the J. Paul Getty Museum in California.4

1 Nos. 81015, 81016; Milani, Guida, I, p. 307f., nos. 7, 8; II, p. 31, pl. CXLVIIIf, described right to left in the photo.
2 No. 1018; Milani, loc.cit., no.10, second from right in pl. CXLVIII.
3 Cumont, Symbolisme Funéraire, p. 310, pl. XXXII.
4 C. Vermeule, N. Neuerburg, Catalogue of the Ancient Art in the J. Paul Getty Museum, The Larger Statuary, Wall Paintings, and Mosaics, Malibu, 1973, pp. 40-41, no. 90.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Unknown: in Soane's collection by 1813 when it is shown in a Gandy view of his museum.

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