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Funerary altar with Banqueter Reclining on a Kline

Roman art


In 1832, Nibby reported that this altar was in the Salone of the Villa Borghese, serving as the base for a statue of Tiberius that is probably the statue of Claudius in the guise of Jupiter that still stands on it today.

The four-sided sculpture has complex moulding at the top and bottom. The long sides, on the right and left, are decorated with typical ritual symbols: a tray for libations called a patera and a small pitcher called an urceus. The recessed panel on the front frames the deceased, who is shown reclining on a wooden bed called a kline and flanked by two small attendants.

From the first century CE on in particular, depictions of private banquets were often used on funerary monuments, to symbolise ostentation and self-celebration.

The hairstyles of the woman and the two girls suggest a date for the altar in the Flavian period, at the end of the first century CE.


Object details

Inventory
XXXIXa
Location
Date
c. 80-90 A.D.
Classification
Medium
Luni marble
Dimensions
height 99 cm; width 78 cm; depth 50 cm; figured panel 22 x 40 cm
Provenance

Borghese Collection, cited for the first time in the Salone of the Villa in 1832 (Nibby, p. 43, no. 7); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 42, no. 15. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1994-95 Paola Mastropasqua

Commentary

This four-sided altar has complex moulding at the top (four listels and four cyma reversas) and bottom (one listel, one cyma reversa, another listel, a smooth band and a final cyma reversa). The relief decoration on the sides depicts typical ritual symbols: on the right, a tray for libations called a patera and, on the left, a small pitcher called an urceus. The rest of the surface is smooth and undecorated. In the upper part of the front, there is a recessed aedicule called a naiskos framing the deceased reclining on a kline, in high relief. The latter is a wooden lectus with a pluteus along the back and fulcra on the short sides. The open front reveals the mattress, called a torus, and the bolster, which is partly flattened by the weight of the woman’s body.

The reclining woman is propping herself up with her bent left arm, while her right arm is extended along her body and slightly bent; she is resting her hand over the area of her groin. Her right hand is resting on the bed; the thumb, index finger and little finger are extended and the remaining two folded. Her left leg, which is entirely covered by her garment, revealing only her foot, is bent and pressed against the mattress, while her right leg is raised up and resting on the left. The woman is wearing a chiton and a himation, which covers the rest of her body and, coming up over her left shoulder, her left arm as well. The folds of the garment, which follows the lines of the chest and breasts, are lightly defined, becoming more pronounced over the legs. The figure’s head is tipped slightly down and turned to the left. She has an oval face, elongated eyes and heavily incised eyelids topped by arched eyebrows. Her prominent nose broadens at the tip. The outlines of her small mouth are vaguely defined, and her full lips are slightly parted. Her elaborate hair follows the line of her skull, and her forehead is framed by a diadem of well-defined, overlapping curls that were carved using a drill.

Behind the woman, to the sides, there are two small childlike figures in profile wearing long sleeveless tunics made of coarse cloth that falls to their feet. The arms of the figure on the left are only preserved to the elbow, but the remaining traces on the background suggest that they were raised up to offer something to the woman. The figure on the right rests her hands on the fulcrum, to arrange the bolster. Their faces are plump, and their hair falls to their shoulders in clearly defined curls created with a drill. The face of the girl on the left is framed by a flat fringe that reveals her ears. The hair of the girl on the right is styled to create a diadem of small, dense, voluminous curls around her face. The woman’s thin, pointed shoes, called socci, are under the bed.

The altar belongs to a category of funerary monument with banqueting imagery that was popular in the first century CE. Ghedini argues that the iconography of these scenes can be traced to Greek and eastern models in which the heroicised deceased is reclining next to his wife or servants. In Rome, as early as the first century BCE and then in the first century CE, with the establishment of the new imperial regime, the banquet was used to express the desire to display wealth and liberality, especially among the newly wealthy. Specifically, the tombs of the emerging classes were primarily used for self-representation and celebration of one’s own merits and fortunes (Ghedini 1990, pp. 35–62). Similar imagery is found on the gable of an altar in the Museo Archeologico, Turin (1941, pp. 86–86, figs 15).

Nibby reported the Borghese sculpture in its current location in the Salone in 1832, serving as a base for a statue of Tiberius, which would have been the statue of Claudius in the guise of Jupiter that still stands on the altar today (pp. 46–49, no. 9).

Critics agree that the work dates to the Flavian period, towards the end of the first century CE.

Giulia Ciccarello




Bibliography
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 43, n. 7.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 9, n. 7.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 912, n. 7.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano del Palazzo della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), I, p. 10, n. 7.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 14.
  • C. Carducci, Il substrato ligure nelle sculture romane del Piemonte e della Liguria, in “Ingauna e Intemelia”, VII, n. 23, Bordighera 1941, pp. 86-86, figg. 15.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 17, n. 192.
  • W. Helbig, H. Speier, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom, (4°Edizione), a cura di H. Speier, II, Tübingen 1966, p. 706, n. 1945 (Simon).
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 10.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 102.
  • H. Wrede, Klinenprobleme, in “Archäologischer Anzeirger”, 1981, pp. 86-131, in part. p. 115, nota 80.
  • D. Boschung, Antike Grabaltäre aus den Nekropolen Roms, in “Acta Bernensia”, 10, Bern 1987, p. 93, n. 551.
  • F. Ghedini, Raffigurazioni conviviali nei monumenti funerari romani, in "Rivista di Archeologia", 14, 1990, pp. 35-62.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, in p. 49, n. 8b.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p. 115, n. 78.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/01008347, P. Moreno 1975; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.