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Fragmentary Roman adaptation of an Attic chariot group relief

Early Imperial

Pentelic marble

Height: 27.5cm
Width: 43cm

Museum number: M1164

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 293help-vermeule-catalogue-number

On display: Museum 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

The lower left quarter of a scene showing a female in a biga [chariot] galloping to the right; the flying drapery, the body and six-spoked wheel of the chariot, and the rear halves of the two horses, with the tail of the rear animal flying out over the wheel, are preserved. Plain fillet ground line below.

The relief is close to, but by no means a copy of, the "Eos" reliefs of the Vatican1, Lisbon2, Herculaneum3 and the Conservatori (Rome)4. It is probably an early Imperial adaptation of an early Fourth Century BC Attic votive relief of no particular merit and perhaps inspired by the prototypes of the above series. The fact that this biga has a wheel with six instead of the normal four spokes is no bar to even a Fifth Century dating for the prototype, for the stag-drawn chariot on the Bassae frieze (from the Temple of Apollo at Bassae, now in the British Museum) has a wheel with six spokes5. What does appear to constitute a variant at the hand of the early Imperial craftsman are the curious shape of the chariot body between the wheels and the fillet moulding beneath the wheel seen in profile. This moulding is the confirming detail which precludes the piece from any claim to being more than excellent late Hellenistic decorative work, if we assume the votive connections of the original no longer apply.

There is a similar architectural panel in the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, in island marble and probably work of the first century BC, in the style of the late fifth or fourth centuries BC.6 The subject appears to be Demeter searching for Persephone and the scene perhaps had a pendant or was a continuation of a panel showing the Rape of Persephone. These marble plaques were the more expensive counterparts of the terracotta, so-called "Campana", plaques which are discussed in Vermeule's entries on Soane's collection of architectural terracottas.

1 W. Amelung, Die Skulpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, 2 vols, Berlin, 1903-08, II, p. 446, no. 263, pl. 53 - quadriga. Eos is the goddess of the Dawn, usually depicted with a chariot and pair.
2 S. Reinach, Répertoire de Reliefs Grecs et Romains, 3 vols, Paris, 1909-12, III, p. 475; C. Picard, in Annuario dell regia Archeologica di Athene XXIV-VI, 1946-48, pp. 213ff - quadriga.
3 A. Maiuri, in Annuario, loc.cit., pp. 221-228.
4 H.S. Jones, A Catalogue of the Ancient Sculptures Preserved in the Municipal Collections of Rome: the Sculptures of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, 2 vols, Oxford, 1926, p. 98, no. 39a, pl. 34 - biga.
5 H. Kenner, Der Fries des Tempels von Bassae-Phigalia, Vienna, 1946, plate 4.
6 Accession no. 45-32/7; in their online catalogue (accessed 2023) the piece is described as a relief of Helios, probably made in one of the Greek colonies in Italy in 'white marble' and dated c.400 BC.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Acquired by Soane from the collection of the neoclassical sculptor, John Flaxman.

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