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Work Dish handle

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Roman Art

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Anse de plat

© 1987 RMN / Les Frères Chuzeville

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Roman Art

Author(s):
Marie-Bénédicte Astier

This dish handle was found between 1830 and 1840 in Bondonneau, near Montélimar, in south-eastern France. It demonstrates the popularity of silverware in Gaul during the second and third centuries AD. The relief decoration, which is chased and heightened with gold, takes up a favorite theme of Roman decorative art: the Triumph of the Marine Venus. Flanked by two cupids standing on dolphins, the goddess of beauty is seated in a sea-shell carried by two tritons.

A Gallo-Roman discovery in the French department of Drôme

Purchased by the Louvre in 1850, this handle with relief decoration was found around a decade earlier, in the ruins of an ancient spa in the locality of Bondonneau, near Montélimar, in the Drôme region. The wide groove running along the bottom edge of the object indicates that it was originally fixed to the rim of a large, circular, silver dish that has since been lost. The outer edge is elegantly shaped into a series of arcs. The reliefs are made of cast and chased silver, partially covered with gold leaf. The gilding, now lost with the exception of sparse highlights, was once abundant and would have been applied to details such as the bodies of the figures and the large shell framing Venus herself.

The Triumph of the Marine Venus

The reliefs represent the Triumph of the Marine Venus, a very popular mythological subject in Roman decorative art, particularly from the reign of the Antonines onwards (AD 96-192). Widely used by artists since the Hellenistic period, this theme was one of the most common motifs in both silverware and mosaics in North Africa until the fourth century AD. The goddess of love and beauty is enthroned at the center of the scene; entirely nude, she is seated in a sea-shell carried by two sea centaurs or tritons, lifting up her long hair with her right hand. At either end of the handle, a small winged cupid stands on a dolphin, which he directs with the aid of a whip. Playing among the waves are fish, more dolphins and cuttlefish. A small shell may be seen beneath the feet of the goddess. The image proclaims the absolute power of beauty; traditional features, such as the sea full of fish and the cupids mounted on dolphins, have been retained here and adapted to the restricted shape of the handle. The composition is quite dramatically conceived, contrasting the nonchalance and slenderness of Venus with the virile power and muscular bodies of the tritons.

The flowering of Gallo-Roman metalwork during the second and third centuries AD

Produced between the late second and early third century AD, this dish handle typifies the flourishing of Gallo-Roman metalwork during this period. During the second century the provinces of Gaul prospered, strengthening the intense rivalry between Emperor Septimus Severus and Clodius Albinus towards the end of the century. The production of gold- and silverware eventually suffered as a result of these internal struggles and the Germanic incursions into this part of the Empire during the late third century.

Bibliography

Catalogue de l'exposition "Trésors d'orfèvrerie gallo-romains", Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1989, n 187, p. 229-230

Technical description

  • Anse de plat

    Fin IIe - IIIe siècle après J.-C.

    Provenance : Bondonneau (près de Montélimar, Drôme)

  • Argent partiellement doré

    l. : 30,80 cm. ; H. : 10,30 cm.

  • Acquisition, 1850

    Bj 2065

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Salle Henri II
    Room 33
    Vitrine centrale 7 : Italie et Gaule romaine

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