A Roman marble revolving panel with relief decoration

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Lot 60
A Roman marble double-faced revolving panel

Sold for £ 111,150 (US$ 145,547) inc. premium


28 Oct 2004, 10:30 BST

London, New Bond Street

A Roman marble double-faced revolving panel
Circa 1st-2nd Century A.D.
The primary face carved in high relief with two profile heads, the left representing the youthful Dionysos with feminine features and thick luxuriant hair, facing the head of a heavily bearded satyr with furrowed brows, pointed ears and a mass of wavy hair, his beard falling in corkscrew curls, the tips trailing onto the curved throwing stick, 'pedum', below, two castanets hang from the stick falling onto the ground-line in the foreground; the reverse carved in low relief with a sea-monster, 'ketos', riding atop the waves shown in ridged layers, its head turned back towards its undulating fish-like body with fishy tail, its dog-like muzzle open to show the prominent teeth, with fin-like gills below the jaw, long ears, fins and a crest on the neck and body and lion's forelegs, set within a recess with a rectangular border, centrally pierced through the top and bottom for rotation, 14¾in. (37.5cm.) diam., 97/8in. (25cm.) high, some minor chips, one strand of hair and the lower lip repaired on the head of Dionysos


  • Provenance:
    Inherited by the present owner on the death of his wife in 1974. Although uncertain as to when and where she acquired it, the vendor recalls his wife owning the sculpture when they first met in London in 1945. It may have been part of the collection left to her by her father, a merchant who traded between Brazil and London - she was born in Rio in 1897. However, it is possible that she had acquired it by her own means, as she had always taken a keen interest and acquired a considerable knowledge of antiques.

    Panels such as this were used in Roman houses for ventilation. They would have revolved on a pivot enabling the decoration to be seen on both sides. For the type cf. A. H. Smith, A Catalogue of Sculpture in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities British Museum, vol III, (London 1904), no.s 2454 & 2455. Circular examples are well known, some of which are of the hanging variety. They are generally decorated with Bacchic or theatrical masks and objects attributed to the cult of Dionysos. The general term for these objects is oscilla, from which the English word oscillation has derived, meaning: the act of swinging or motion - to-and-fro. It is thought that at one time the lower reliefs would have been painted but there is no evidence of this on our example. Cf. R. Merhav et al., A Glimpse into the Past - The Joseph Ternbach Collection (Jerusalem 1981), p.214-5, fig.171, for a discussion on oscilla.

    The pedum was one of the of the attributes of Dionysos who would throw it to the accompaniment of castanets in the ecstasy of alcohol.

    The ketos has a long history from early Western Asiatic art continuing through the Roman period and may still be observed in Romanesque and Gothic architecture of Medieval times. It also has an Indian manifestation. It has even been sugested that this monster has a manifestation in Chinese art in the form of the ubiquitous dragon. It also features in the Jonah story where presumably the reality is of a shark which flourished in the east Mediterranean in Biblical times. It is plausible that the Phoenicians could have hunted whales, west of the Pillars of Hercules in Atlantic waters and this would have reinforced the reputation of the monster. The King James version of the Bible only refers to a "fish" in the book of Jonah but elsewhere the word, used five times, is translated as "whale" and in reference to the Jonah story in the New Testament Mattew XII, 40.

    The whole subject of the ketos is treated in John Boardman, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae [LIMC] VIII (1997) vide: Ketos and in more detail in his magisterial paper: 'Very like a Whale' - Classical Sea Monsters" in: Ann E. Farkas et alii, [Eds.] Monsters and Demons in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds - Papers presented to Edith Porada (1987), pp.73-84.

    A Roman alabaster model of a ketos was sold in these rooms on the 22 September 1998, lot 411 where the catalgoue proffers extensive notes on the subject, citing other examples mainly from the perspective of the Jonah story.

Saleroom notices

  • For other rectangular panels carved on both sides but with theatre masks, cf. Pompeii AD79, Royal Academy of Arts Picadilly London, 20 November 1976 – 27 February 1977, nos.79, 80 & 84.
A Roman marble revolving panel with relief decoration
A Roman marble revolving panel with relief decoration
A Roman marble revolving panel with relief decoration
A Roman marble revolving panel with relief decoration
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