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Seated Male Figure with Daughter

Roman art


This sculpture group, which is probably funerary, portrays a father with his young daughter. The seated man wears a mantle draped over his legs and shoulders, while the little girl, standing next to him, wears a high-girdled chiton. The rendering of the man’s drapery and the little girl’s clothing dates the group to the Antonine Age, whereas the child’s long wavy locks of hair and small, delicate features might date to the early imperial period.

Originally located in enclosure two, along Viale dei Cipressi near the theatre, as reported by Iacomo Manilli in 1650 and Domenico Montelatici in 1700, it was moved in the eighteenth century to decorate the new lake garden. When the collection was reconstituted in the Palazzina between 1819 and 1832, after Camillo Borghese sold a large part of the family’s antiquities to Napoleon, it was one of the sculptures taken from the park and brought indoors. It was restored in 1828 by Antonio D'Este, who replaced the original head with an ancient head of Dionysus, of the Madrid-Richelieu type attributed to Praxiteles.


Object details

Inventory
CCXXXXI
Location
Date
second half of the 2nd century A.D. (group); 150 A.D. (head of Dionysus); 40-50 A.D. (portrait)
Classification
Medium
Luni marble
Dimensions
Group: height with ancient plinth 157 cm; width 87 cm. Head of Dionysus: height 28 cm. Female figure: height 90 cm; head: height 17 cm; base: height 145 cm
Provenance

Borghese Collection, cited for the first time by Manilli, 1650. Inventario fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 53, no. 174. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1828, Antonio D’Este

Commentary

This sculpture group was reported by Iacomo Manilli in 1650 and Domenico Montelatici in 1700 in enclosure two along Viale dei Cipressi, near the theatre. It is described by the former as ‘Antoninus Pius with his young daughter’ and by the latter as ‘Antoninus Pius with his young daughter next to him, possibly Lucilla, crowned as empress, caressing her’. In the 1832 and 1838 editions of Antonio Nibby’s guide, the group is incorrectly identified as Liber and Libera (Italian divinities who came to be identified with Dionysus and his paredra, a minor companion deity), accompanpied by a long documentary analysis.  The group was recognised as a funerary sculpture representing a father and daughter in 1925 by Walter Amelung (Amelung-Arndt-Lippold 1925, p. 18, no. 2771), who compared it to a group in the round from Atp, Provence and now in Chatsworth House, which could be dated to the Flavian, or at the latest, the Trajanic Age (Furtwängler 1901, Vol. 21, pp. 221–224, no. 9, pl. XV). That work represents a woman seated next to a little girl, who affectionately places her left hand on that of her mother.

We know from a late eighteenth-century drawing that it was one of the sculptures chosen to decorate the new lake garden (B.I.A.S.A., ROMA XI, 48.42). When the collection was reconstituted in the Palazzina between 1819 and 1832, after Camillo Borghese sold a large part of the family’s antiquities to his brother-in-law Napoleon, the sculpture was restored by Antonio D'Este, in 1828 (Sforzini, 2011, pp. 68–69, fig. 3). D’Este replaced the original head with an ancient head of Dionysus, of the Madrid-Richelieu type attributed to Praxiteles, characterised by a young, beardless face and wearing a band across the forehead and an ivy crown (closely linked to the Woburn Abbey type, no. 120, the only differences being the position of the head and treatment of the face and hair: Gasparri 1986, pp. 435–436, pl. 306, no. 122a). The choice of a head representing the god of wine fit perfectly with the theme of the frescoes in Room 8, where the group was slated to be moved.  Reported as still being in Room 8 in the 1840 and 1873 editions of Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, and by Adolfo Venturi in 1893 and Vittorio Emanuele Bianchi in 1910, it was probably moved to the portico in the mid twentieth century.

The man, who is seated with his right foot moved forward and his left foot flexed, wears a mantle draped over his legs and shoulders and gathered over his left arm, leaving his torso and feet bare. The lean, finely sculpted figure is portrayed in a relaxed pose, loosely resting his right arm on his leg and embracing the little girl’s shoulders with his left. The little girl, who is turned affectionately towards the man, is standing on a decorated cube. She wears a short-sleeved chiton and a peplum fastened at the shoulders with a long apoptygma cinched below the chest with a thin belt. She gently holds a dove in her left hand.

The man’s face, oval shaped and with a low brow, is frontal. His cheeks are smooth and soft, and his chin is short and rounded. He has a small mouth with full lips and deep corners. His nose is straight and well defined, his eyes are almond shaped with smooth eyeballs and placed symmetrically to the sides beneath linear arched eyebrows that extend almost to the temples. His forehead is partially covered with a band stretched over his thick hair above his temples, and he wears an ivy crown. His voluminous hair is lightly parted in the middle and divided into locks, with long spiral curls that fall over the shoulders from a bun at the nape of his neck.

The little girl has a serene expression, with delicate features, a small nose and chubby cheeks. Her small, full lips are partially open, with a hint of a smile. Her hair is worn in a double braid wrapped around her head like a crown, and her face is framed by a long, smooth fringe that comes down to her ears, leaving them exposed.

Walter Amelung noted that the pose of the male figure echoes that of the statue of Zeus in the Museo Nazionale, Naples, specifically the arrangement of the middle part of the mantle and the position of the legs (Amelung, 1908, p. 120, fig. 19). Whereas the iconography of the little girl with doves was already in use in the fourth century BCE, one example being a sculpture at the Glyptothek in Munich that came from the sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia in Athens (Ohly, 1972, p. 10, no. 55), which has strong similarities with the Borghese statue. 

The composition of the group, which was clearly a private funerary commission, can also be fruitfully compared with a sculpture of a woman and her son, the latter wearing a toga and a bulla (a special amulet), at the Capitoline Museum and datable to the early imperial period (Palazzo Nuovo, Galleria, Inv. Scu 243).

The richness of the man’s drapery and the little girl’s high-girdle chiton date the group to the Antonine Age, whereas the child’s long wavy locks and small features seem to date to the early imperial period.

The general theme pairing a seated deceased adult and a child has roots in Attic stele decorated with scenes expressive of family intimacy and rich in feeling, following rigidly defined and easily recognisable iconographic formulae. These works celebrate bonds of affection, as we find in the funerary stele of a woman named Ampharete, who holds her grandson on her lap. The epigraph reads: ‘It is my daughter's child that I hold here with love, the one whom I held on my lap while in life we looked on the light of the sun and now (still) hold, dead as I am dead’ (Catoni, 2005, Fasc. 1, p. 34).

Giulia Ciccarello




Bibliography
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