Fragment of a relief with head of soldier (signifer or standard bearer)

Roman
Imperial, Later Julio-Claudian or Trajanic
2nd half of the 1st century or early 2nd century AD


Place of Manufacture: Italy, Lazio, Rome

Catalogue Raisonné

Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 237; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 112 (additional published references).

Dimensions

Overall: 35 × 34.2 × 8.6 cm (13 3/4 × 13 7/16 × 3 3/8 in.)

Accession Number

59.336

Medium or Technique

Marble, Italian or possibly Pentelic

Out on Loan

On display at Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, December 1, 2018 – March 4, 2019

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Sculpture

Fragmentary relief with helmeted profile of Roman soldier (signifer or standard-bearer). A lion skin “cap” covers most of the helmet, but it can be seen to be of an ornate Attic form, with elaborately decorated brow plate and cheek piece. Details such as rosettes on brow plate and decorative border of cheek piece, and eye of lion scalp are highlighted with drill holes. Behind the head a rectangular shape might be a pole. The relief is excerpted from a much larger composition, probably a triumphal scene or adlocutio.

On the back and oriented perpendicularly to the relief is an inscription with letters of Trajanic style filled with red. The name and formula indicates that it was probably intended for a Renaissance or later tomb: BRAN[D] / [O].CLARIS / [P]IENT .

The relief is broken irregularly around the head, with a piece jutting out at the back. It comprises three parts: a large fragment encompassing the entire figural portion and two small background fragments reattached at left. The fur of the animal skin cap has been partly chiseled away, possibly when the relief for reused for the inscription. The surfaces are good with a slightly crusty light gray to yellow to white coloring, but show signs of weathering.

Provenance

Possibly found near the Piazza Sciarra, Rome [see note 1]. Possibly in a British private collection (Duke of Buccleuch?) [see note 2]. 1952, sold by Spink and Son, London, to Peter Wilson of Sotheby’s, London [see note 3]. 1959, sold by J. J. Klejman (dealer; b. 1906 – d. 1995), New York, to Cornelius C. Vermeule, III (b. 1925 – d. 2008), Boston; 1959, sold by Cornelius Vermeule to the MFA for $1275 [see note 4]. (Accession Date: June 9, 1959)

NOTES:

[1] In the past, the relief has been associated with a 1577 drawing by the sculptor Pierre Jacques labeled “Piazza Sciarra” recording a relief from the Arch of Claudius excavated in 1562 near the Piazza Sciarra, Rome (Salomon Reinach, L’album de Pierre Jacques, Sculpteur de Reims, dessiné à Rome de 1572 à 1577 (Paris, 1902), pl. 30). However, the drawing is in fact after another relief, now at the Louvre (inv. no. LL.398). It is doubtful that the MFA relief comes from the Arch of Claudius since the only two reliefs securely associated with the arch do not match the MFA relief either in terms of scale or style (G. M. Koeppel, “'Two Reliefs from the Arch of Claudius in Rome,” RM 90 (1983), pp. 103-109). However, the fact that the present relief was purchased by the MFA together with another showing a griffin head (MFA accession no. 59.337), which resembles a drawing by Pierre Jacques labeled “in piace dy Sciara 1576” (see Reinach, L’album de Pierre Jacques, pl. 29) could suggest a common origin for the two sculptures near the Piazza Sciarra. On the history of excavations at this site, see A. A. Barrett, “Claudius’ British Victory Arch in Rome,” Britannia 22 (1991), pp. 1-19, esp. pp. 4-5. For the subsequent history of the reliefs discovered there, see H. Stuart Jones, “Notes on Roman Historical Sculptures,” Papers of the British School at Rome 3 (1906), pp. 220-221. For a theory about the presence of several triumphal arches near the Piazza Sciarra, see F. Castagnoli, “Due archi trionfali della Via Flaminia presso Piazza Sciarra,” BullComm 70 (1942), pp. 57-82.

[2] See C. C. Vermeule and M. B. Comstock, Sculpture in Stone (MFA Boston, 1976), p. 147, cat. no. 237. According to Cornelius Vermeule at the time of the acquisition, he had first seen the relief in London in 1952 and it was "from a British country house."

[3] According to Cornelius Vermeule at the time of the sculpture's acquisition.

[4] This was the price paid for MFA accession nos. 59.336 and 59.337.

Credit Line

Charles Amos Cummings Bequest Fund