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  • image M924

A cornucopia: a fragment of a colossal Roman statue.

2nd century AD

Pentelic marble

Length (on curve): 73cm

Museum number: M924

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 393help-vermeule-catalogue-number

On display: Dome Area
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

A horn of plenty from which spring fruits, nuts, foliage, and flowers; the body is enriched with encircling fillets near the top, small palmettes, rosettes, and tendrils, with an acanthus leaf springing from a fluted sheath at the bottom end.

For an analagous ancient cornucopia restored (?) in the hands of a colossal female figure of "Fortuna", compare the standing figure of that attribution in the Museo Nazionale, Naples1 from the Temple of Fortuna Augusta at Pompeii. The Soane cornucopia was probably connected with a similar statue; as in this case, the cornucopia rested in the crook of the arm and therefore required little support other than the attachments at either end.

Fragments such as this, like much of the minor material in the collection, must have been quite highly prized by the Eighteenth Century restorer, for they could often provide the convincing air of antique authenticity in re-creating statuary, etc. composed of antique fragments. The drill work touches in the fruit pouring from the cornucopia indicate a dating in the Roman Imperial Second Century at the earliest, and there is no reason why the piece may not have come from Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli. There are works in the Museum, especially among Tatham's architectural fragments, which definitely came from that source, but the two examples in the collection located nearest this cornucopia: the "Genius in the Car Drawn by Stags" and the Campana plaque on the south wall of the Dome, can only be imagined in that connection with the utmost difficulty. They bear labels stating a similar provenance, but one is an Eighteenth Century fake, the other mid First Century household enrichment. "Hadrian's Villa" was a common later neoclassical "source", like Pompeii and Herculaneum, and Soane was no more ready to accept a dealer's history than any romantic connoisseur of his generation.

That the shape and enrichment of this Soane cornucopia were the standard types associated with Roman Imperial statuary in the Hellenistic tradition is most vividly demonstrated from recent evidence in that the Genius Populi Romani of the Cancelleria Relief A carries just such a cornucopia in perfectly preserved condition in his left arm2. The cornucopia carried by the same figure in frieze B shows minor variations but the same decorative scheme3.

Villa Adriana was a formative influence on Soane's architecture and he must have been proud to own this impressive fragment. In 1825 it was in a central position in the Dome Area, directly above the sarcophagus (see Vol.82/47).

1 No. 6362; Ruesch. Guida, p. 243f., no. 1002.
2 Magi, I Rilievi Flavi, p. 23, fig. 22, pl. III.
3 Loc. cit., fig. 35.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Shown in Gandy view of Soane's Museum 1811 P384 where is hangs vertically to the left of the large frieze mounted below the balustrade on the south side (right hand side of the watercolour). Note this watercolour is cited by Vermeule as 1813.1. in his catalogue. Said to have been found in the ruins of the Villa Adriana (Hadrian's Villa) at Tivoli.


Description of Sir John Soane's Museum, 1930, p.81.

Associated items

Vol 82/47, watercolour showing this item in situ

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