Tanja's Culture


Body Beautiful

Several important Roman marble sculptures are featured in the 4 June Antiquities Sale in New York.

The Roman marble head of Apollo shown below is a superb and colossal idealistic depiction of the god. The Romans were voracious collectors of antique Greek statuary, and when the supply of Greek originals was insufficient to meet the demand, Roman sculpture ateliers would create their own versions in the Greek manner emphasising idealised beauty. 

The head was previously in the collection of Agatha and Charles Sadler, who owned the St. George’s Gallery bookstore in London.  They acquired it between 1965-1968 from the renowned London dealer John Hewett.

Another example of idealised beauty is a Roman marble torso of the Asclepius, the god of medicine. He is depicted with the perfect body, his pectorals, abdominals and arm well defined and contrasting with the drapery falling from his left shoulder and enveloping his legs.

This was previously in the collection of the famous designer Gianni Versace, and was sold in Milan shortly after his passing.

Counter to the trend for idealisation is the taste for naturalism, as seen in another amazing work of the sculptor’s art, a Roman marble portrait bust of a woman. It is a superb example of the Flavian period showing the sitter of mature age, with sagging flesh and an elaborate coiffure. 

In the previous century, during the earlier Roman Republic, circa 1st century B.C., portraiture was characterised by depicting individuals as they appeared in life, warts and all. This was rejected under Rome’s first emperor Augustus and his Julio-Claudian successors, and was replaced by idealised beauty, as exemplified by Apollo and Ascelpius. 

During the next dynasty (69-96 A.D.), the Flavian Emperors rejected the taste for idealised beauty and revived the naturalism of the Republic for portraits, as seen on the bust presented here. 

The veristic, or truthful, style of this portrait served its modern owners well.  It was previously in the von Boschan-Ashcrott collection in Vienna.  During the Anschluss in Austria in March 1939, the family was forced to leave the country due to their Jewish heritage.  While the Nazis looted most of their possessions, the family was able to retain this bust by claiming it was a portrait of an old relative, a ruse aided by a sympathetic museum director.

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