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Fragment Depicting The Head of a Ram - LA.573
Origin: The Mediterranean
Circa: 30 BC to 100 AD
Dimensions: 6.75" (17.1cm) high x 4.25" (10.8cm) wide
Collection: Classical
Style: Graeco-Roman
Medium: Marble

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This fragment depicts the head of a ram, facing left, in high relief. The modeling of the head is consummate and in keeping with the meticulous attention paid to its details. The sculpting of our ram evokes the jewel-like precision associated with the finest cameo carving of the period. Notice in particular the naturalistic treatment of the snout with its clearly articulated nose and mouth, the subtle modeling separating the region of the eye from that of the cheek, and the convincing manner in which the curly tufts of fleece rise up from the forehead from which the curvilinear forms of the horn spring which in turn surround the lanceolate-shaped, horizontally aligned ear.

There are ten well-modeled floral forms, originally associated with a now missing garland, which align themselves with the diagonal orientation of our ram’s lower jaw. Each of these elements is naturalistically rendered and sculpted in depth into the surface of the marble. When struck by the bright rays of the Mediterranean sun these forms, together with those of the head of the ram, would reveal an almost baroque orchestration of light and dark forms contributing to the visual interest of the entire object to which this fragment originally belonged.

On the basis of parallels, our ram appears to have come from one of the corners of a funerary monument, created during the early Roman Imperial Period, as comparison with the funerary altars of both Amemptus in Paris, the Musée du Louvre, and that of Memmius Ianuarius in Copenhagen’s Ny Carlsberg Glypotek, and a marble relief from the tomb of the Haterii family now in the Latern Museum in Rome reveal.

The image of the ram abounds in the mythology of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and was in the early periods associated with Hermes Kriophoros, Hermes, the ram-bearer. As such, Hermes came to be regarded as the god of abundance and prosperity and was particularly associated with herdsmen and the fecundity of their flocks. Hermes was also identified as the path-finder par excellence. In this capacity, he was also known as Hermes psychopompos, Hemes who escorts souls, because of his ability to lead the deceased to the land of Hades to which he would summon them. He is often depicted taking the deceased by the hand as he would gently lead them aboard the boat of Charon, who would convey them over the River Styx. The presence of rams on such funerary reliefs as ours of the Roman Imperial Period suggest the presence of Hermes psychopompos who assured both the safe passage of the deceased into the Underworld and guaranteed an abundance of funerary offerings by surviving family members and friends.

References:

For the parallels mentioned above, see, D. E. Strong, Roman Imperial Sculpture (London 1961), plates 53, 58, and 66. The choice of floral elements and their treatment on the funerary altar of Memmoius Ianuarius (Strong, plate 58), dated to about AD 30, are particularly close in design and execution to those on our fragment.

- (LA.573)

 

 

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