A large Roman breccia cinerary urn

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Lot 135W
A large Roman breccia cinerary urn

Sold for £ 60,000 (US$ 78,312) inc. premium

Antiquities

28 Apr 2010, 11:00 BST

London, New Bond Street

A large Roman breccia cinerary urn
Circa 1st Century A.D.
The body of conical form, tapering to a flattened circular base, the surface finely carved in relief, the upright neck with a band of six bucrania, bull's skulls, laden with garlands and swags, interspersed with sacrificial implements of a patera, a knife and an axe in the field, a ring of ovolo below, the shoulder with a band of overlapping leaves, strigillation around the main body, elongated tongues overlapping from below, with a band of leaves and short tongues emanating from the base, 17in (43.2cm) high, a metal stake in the base for mounting

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    Private English collection. Acquired by the parents of the present owner at auction in London in the 1950s.

    Literature:
    This is an unusual type of cinerarium, the decorative motifs can however be seen on other Imperial urns and sculpture of the period. The motifs of garlanded bucrania and the implements of sacrifice which decorate the neck were inspired by public religious monuments from the Augustan period onward, such as the Ara Pacis Augustae and the Temple of Vespasian. For further discussion of this adoption of official religious imagery of pietas into personal funerary sculpture cf. P. Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, (Michigan 1988), p.276.

    For a sarcophagus employing these religious motifs in a panel across the top, cf. L. Budde & R. Nicholls, A Catalogue of Greek and Roman Sculpture in the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge, (Cambridge 1964), no.160. The unusual shape of this urn can also be seen in an engraving by Pompeo Batoni, also of a marble strigillated urn once in the Villa Ludovisi, now lost: B. Palma, I Marmi Ludovisi: Storia della Collezione, 'Museo Nazionale Romano, Le Sculture', vol.I,4, (Rome 1983), fig.112.

    Cinerary urns were mainly produced in marble, however they also survive in more exotic stones such as alabaster and porphyry. Breccia was an equally expensive stone in the Roman period and was used for decorative vessels, furniture and columns, cf. M. De Nuccio & L. Ungaro, I Marmi Colorati della Roma Imperiale, (Venice 2002), nos.109 & 349.
A large Roman breccia cinerary urn
A large Roman breccia cinerary urn
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