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Funerary Altar of Spendon

Roman art


This altar was located in the Portico by Nibby in 1832, where it supported the remains of a statue of Leda. The moulding is still visible near the base of the quadrangular block; on the flanks are depictions of the utensils employed in ritual sacrifices: a patera and a small pitcher. The corners of the anterior face are decorated with two bucrania, their horns decked with ribbons intertwined to create a sumptuous festoon. The inscription is dedicated to the freedman Spendon. 

The sculpture is chronologically ascribable to the early first century CE. 


Object details

Inventory
IVa
Location
Date
first half of the 1st century A.D.
Classification
Medium
white marble
Dimensions
height 67 cm; width 73 cm; depth 46 cm; letter height 2.5-5.5 cm
Provenance

Borghese Collection, cited for the first time by Nibby in the Portico (1832, pp. 1314). Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 42, no. 13. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Inscriptions

DIS

MANIBUS

SPENDONTIS

AUGUSTI ET

AUGUSTAE LIBERTI

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1997 M. G. Mascetti

Commentary

The base of this quadrangular altar has a moulding composed of a fillet, a cyma reversa and a second fillet. The front corners are decorated with two bucrania with ribbons hanging from their horns, in turn supporting a bountiful festoon of flowers, fruit and pinecones on the anterior face of the altar. The ribbons flourish and end in a dainty bilobed leaf motif. The festoon marks the inferior margin of an inscription of five lines dedicated to Spendon, freedman of Augustus: 

DIS  

MANIBUS  

SPENDONTIS  

AUGUSTI ET  

AUGUSTAE LIBERTI 

On the left and right sides, we observe ritual symbols such as a patera – a libation bowl – and an urceus – a small pitcher. Nibby sites the altar in the Portico, supporting a fragment of a statue of Leda, and considers the inscription a modern addition, except for the word DIS, defining it ‘one of those impostures typical of the late fifteenth century’ (1832, pp. 1314). Venturi confirms the location and considers it an antique (1893, p. 9). During the twentieth century, it was placed in the chapel, while in the late 1990s it was located in the Entrance Hall, used as the base for a fragment of a modern sculpture, a Head of Christ (inv. XXX) where Paolo Moreno recalls it in 2003 (pp. 132133, no. 98). Since 2021, it has been exhibited in Room 1. Studies have dated this sculpture to the first century CE. 

Giulia Ciccarello




Bibliography
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, pp. 13-14.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 5, n. 7.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 909, n. 7.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano del Palazzo della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), I, p. 5, n. 10.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 9.
  • Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum VI, I, 1876, n. 26674.
  • W. Altmann, Die römischen Grabaltäre der Kaiserzeit, 1905, pp. 62-63, fig. 55
  • D. Boschung, Antike Grabaltäre aus den Nekropolen Roms, in “Acta Bernensia”, 10, Bern 1987, p. 96, n. 638; p. 66, n. I91.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, pp. 132-133, n. 98.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/01008405, P. Moreno 1975; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.