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Fragment of a statue or deeply carved relief depicting Victory slaying a young bull or cow

Medium-grained Greek marble

Length: 18cm

Museum number: M594

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 382help-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

This piece represents the nose of a bovine being grasped by a small hand. The identification of this fragment is based on the following: the manner of the breaks, behind and between the ears and through the neck to a point at the base of the skull, show that the animal's head must have been tilted at a very sharp angle against the back. This is borne out by the ridges below the ears, which are an indication of the skin stretched across the bone and muscle structure between head and body. The position of the hand at the end of the nose and mouth and under the chin can only be explained by the action of pulling the head back to plunge the sacrificial knife into the side. There are, however, two prominent statuary and relief motives of a figure slaying a bovine creature, usually a bull of some age: the older tradition features Victoria, but in the Imperial second century and later the type was more commonly used for Mithra, especially in freestanding statuary. Two factors favour the linking of this fragment with the former group: the hand gives every indication of being small, dainty and feminine. The animal is a very young bull or more likely a cow, although the bull in the well known Mithra group in the Ostia Museum is a young beast quite similar to ours1.

Several series of ancient high relief architectural friezes featuring the Roman triumphal motive of Victory slaying a bull are well known and fragments are to be seen about Rome and in Naples, in addition to the frieze from the Basilica Ulpia now in Munich2. Perhaps the most celebrated is the frieze of the Aula Regia of Domitian's Palatine palaces, fragments of which are still in situ but also in the Farnese collection in Naples and (an unpublished fragment) in the Antiquario of the Forum3. Another larger and finer frieze is that of which fragments were found in the Tiber and are now mounted on the cloister wall of the Museo delle Terme (72291-239)4. The freestanding statuary parallels are provided by two examples in the British Museum5 dated second century AD.

1 R. Calza, Museo Ostiense, p. 30, no. 149; Richter, Three Critical Periods in Greek Sculpture, fig. 140, as a Roman copy of a Hellenistic work. For a list of such Mithraic monuments more recent than Cumont's treatises: article by C. Cecchelli in Roma, XIX, 1941, p. 83ff.
2 Goethert, in JDAI, 51, 1936, pp. 72-81.
3 See von Blanckenhagen, p. 66, 36; Ruesch, Guida, p. 247, no. 1020, JDAI, 51, 1936, p. 78, fig. 7f., etc.
4 JDAI, 51, 1936, p. 79, figs. 10f.
5 Smith, Cat., III, nos. 1699f.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Shown in the Drg. 1813.1

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