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  • image S143

A Roman bench or low table leg

End of 1st century AD

Marble, probably Greek marble

Height: 37cm
Width: 62cm
Depth (visible marble): 6cm

Museum number: S143

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 237help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

Of rectangular form, this leg is carved with two addorsed (back to back) seated winged lions, their tails curling up in a flat, interlaced pattern between them. The carving is set within fillet and plain waterleaf mouldings.

In its measurements and type of marble, technique, execution and detail, this foot of a bench has an identical counterpart, in slightly less perfect preservation, in the Berlin Museum1. The example in Berlin is sculptured on both sides as is probably this piece; according to Kekule the heads were sculptured in the round and stood out below the cross-piece or actual seat, hence were easily shattered on both examples. The Berlin pendant to this piece is termed Attic export work of about the beginning of the Christian Era. This Soane example was probably executed in Rome towards the end of the first century. C.H. Tatham (Ancient Ornamental Architecture, pl. 90) drew a similar freestanding support with chimera heads used as the foot of a sarcophagus in the Vatican Collections and four examples (or two cut apart?) are built into the base of a statue in the Villa Borghese.3 The most elaborate marble furniture fragment of this class, a table leg of the Augustan period with sphinx supports carved in a like manner from the solid slab and with interlaced foliate scrolls between, is in the galleria of the Palazzo Doria and is said to come from the villa of Pompey at Albano2. Other examples are in the Museo Bardini in Florence4 and in the Church of San Cristogno in Rome.5

The sculptured furniture fragments that lay about Rome in the Middle Ages did not go unnoticed by the contemporary stone carvers. Both winged lions such as these and the leaf ornament in which they are placed were copied by the Eleventh Century sculptor of the Greek Baptismal Font in the vestibule of S. Nilo at Grotta Ferrata, as supports for the basin. In the Renaissance the balcony of the Town Hall of Viterbo, attributed to the school of Vignola, features winged lions, back to back with tails interlaced, which are based on a similar antique motive.

Soane used this fragment imaginatively, setting it into the plaster surround of the small fireplace in his Study.

1 A. Conze, Königliche Museen zu Berlin. Beschreibung der antiken Skulpturen, Berlin, 1891, p. 429, no. 1090; http://arachne.uni-koeln.de/objekt/107980.
2 Photograph Alinari no. 29767; P. Arndt and W. Amelung, Photographische Einzelaufnahmen antiker Sculpturen, Munich, 1893-1912, no. 2317.
3 P. Moreno and A. Viacava. I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese, 2003, p.244f., no. 235, build into the base of a statue of a satyr and dophin (inv. CC); see also https://goo.gl/images/NJDxhw.
4 E. Neri Lusanna and L. Faedo (eds.), Il Museo Bardini a Firenze, vol. 2, 1986, p.202, nos. 33-34, figs. 48f.; http://arachne.uni-koeln.de/item/marbilderbestand/892889.
5 H.-U Cain, Römische Marmorkandelaber, 1985, p.86, pl.5,4; also see http://arachne.uni-koeln.de/item/marbilderbestand/892893.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Rome; collected in Rome by Charles Heathcote Tatham for the architect Henry Holland during the 1790s. See Cornelius Vermeule, unpublished catalogue of the Antiquities at Sir John Soane's Museum, Introduction, transcription of Tatham letters, List 3, no. 31. (Soane Archive)


Tatham: Drawings, 8.

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