Roman Bronze Figure of a Sheep - LA.534
Origin: Israel (Sebastia, Samaria)
Circa: 100 AD to 300 AD
Dimensions: 2.5" (6.4cm) high x 2.25" (5.7cm) wide
Collection: classical Antiquities
Style: Roman Bronze


In art and in life, one often finds that the most precious treasures, the most beautiful creations reside not in the conspicuous and colossal, but in the serenity of the slight, the charm of the delicate, the intrigue of the miniature. This aesthetic truism is revealed in a bronze statuette of sheep, surviving for our enjoyment from the late Roman empire. Constituting a slight two and a half by two and a quarter inches, this extraordinary miniature nonetheless captures the gentle charm and physical realism of a living sheep. Turning its head, the sheep gazes upon us with an inquisitive yet discernibly loving countenance. We imagine this benevolent creature frolicking in the bucolic fields of the Italian campagna, proudly wearing its handsome fleece before the shepherd’s habitual shearing. With great skill, the ancient artist has mimicked the proportions and detail of life. The Sheep’s head is particularly impressive, with attention paid to the details of the eyes, muzzle, and down-turned ears, evoking a relaxed demeanor. The texture of the wooly coat is accentuated through individual tufts of wool, recreated with precise and incised lines. The ornamentation of the creature’s coveted coat, followed through in the detail of the sheep’s hoofs and thick tail, makes this piece an extraordinary work of naturalism—a masterpiece in miniature. Sheep—perhaps more so than any other mammal —are fundamental symbols in the cultural and religions traditions of the ancient Mediterranean, particularly those emanating from Judeo- Christian beliefs. A ubiquitous presence on the landscape of Roman fields, Sheep were in antiquity—as they remain today—the most common form of herded livestock. Their economic significance was indispensable in the domestic lives of ancient peoples, relying on the versatile animal for milk, cheese, hides, meat, and of course wool. Across the diverse religious expanse of the Near East and Mediterranean, Sheep were the perennial beast of choice sacrificed to the heavens. Votive figurines, like this bronze sheep, were extremely popular in the Eastern provinces of the Roman empire, where they were used as offerings, symbolically representing animals sacrificed at festivals. However, evidence suggests that such offerings may also symbolically represent deities associated with specific animals and, perhaps, even the deities themselves, rendering this precious statue all the more significant as a sacred and archaic icon. - (LA.534)



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