Art and sculptures from Hadrian’s Villa: Fragment of a marble panel with Dionysiac subjects

This month’s sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a fragment of a dark grey marble panel with depictions of a centaur and a herm of Hercules.

Fragment of a marble panel with depiction of a musician centaur with thyrsus and drum and a herm of Herakles (Dionysiac subjects).

Fragment of a marble panel with depiction of a musician centaur and a herm of Herakles (Dionysiac subjects).

Formerly the property of the duke Braschi in Tivoli, the relief was acquired by the National Roman Museum in 1913 from Giorgio Sangiorgi, a well-known antiques dealer whose gallery was in the Palazzo Borghese in Rome. Today the relief is housed in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme in Rome.

Reconstructed from three different fragments, this relief belonged to a frieze of which six other fragments are known and kept in the Vatican Museums and in a private collection. The frieze was organised into figured metopes with mythological scenes whilst the empty metopes between them were completed with inlays of marbles in different colours or with a plaque made of a different material.

The Palazzo Massimo fragment is beautifully decorated with a Centaur and a herm of Hercules. In the left metope, a young musician centaur, crowned with pine, rides towards the left. He carries a tympanum in one hand and the Bacchic thyrsus in the other.

Detail of the left metope showing a musician centaur.

Detail of the left metope showing a musician centaur.

In the right metope, of which the lower part is missing, stands a herm of the young Hercules in his lionskin, crowned with vine-leaves. Next to the herm lies a sacrificial tripod covered with offerings of flowers and fruits and a palm branch.

Detail of the right metope showing a herm of Hercules.

Detail of the right metope showing a herm of Hercules.

Depictions of Hercules and musician centaurs often appears in Dionysian scenes on Roman sarcophagi of the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.

The upper part of the relief is adorned with a vegetal frieze in which cupids are shown hunting. The lower part of the relief is decorated with marine scenes where a wolf, a horse, a wild-boar and a lion are represented as sea monsters.

Detail of the upper part of the marble relief with cupids hunting.

Detail of the upper part of the marble relief with cupids hunting.

The exact provenance of the relief within Hadrian’s Villa is not known but it might have come from the area of the Serapeum. It certainly decorated the lower or middle part of the wall of a room in the Villa. The complex has yielded many sculptures made of dark grey marble (bigio morato). Bigio morato was employed for high-quality statues of figures that required exceptional polishing like the so called Furietti Centaurs, the famous pair of centaurs in the Capitoline Museums.

Bibliography:

  • J. Charles-Gaffiot & H. Lavagne, Hadrien : trésors d’une villa impériale, Electa, Milan, 1999, p.194.
  • P. Pensabene, Fregio in marmo nero da Villa Adriana, Archaeologia Classica, XXVIII, 1976, p.125-160.

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