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Work Pendant with the head of the river god Achelous

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Etruscan Art (9th-1st centuries BC)

Pendant with the head of the river god Achelous

© 2005 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Etruscan Art (9th-1st centuries BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This gold necklace, from the early 5th century BC, is a splendid example of the imaginative decoration and virtuoso techniques used by Etruscan goldsmiths of the Archaic period. The repoussé pendant, with details in graining and filigree, represents the river god Achelous, identified by his extensive beard and bull-like horns. His image was thought to have protective powers. A masterpiece of the Campana collection, the pendant inspired a number of 19th-century copies.

A necklace from the late Archaic period

The imaginative decoration and remarkably fine execution of this pendant make it one of the greatest and most original masterpieces of Etruscan art. It was acquired for the Louvre by Napoleon III in 1863, as part of the Marquis of Campana's major collection of antiquities. The pendant was probably made in about 480 BC; it is difficult to pinpoint its exact workshop of origin, however, due to a lack of contextual archaeological evidence.

The protective role of the river god Achelous

The pendant hangs from a small woven chain, and represents the river god Achelous, son of Oceanus and Thetys. Present in both Greek and Etruscan art, Achelous was known for his polymorphic abilities, and is often depicted as a bull with a human head. According to Greek mythology, he courted Deianira, whose husband Heracles succeeded in subduing him on several occasions, despite his terrifying guises. One of their many fights, in which Achelous took the form of an amulet designed to ward off evil, is depicted on a diadem in the Louvre collection.

The technical prowess of Etruscan goldsmiths

The pendant is the most famous piece in the Campana collection, and has inspired numerous modern copies, notably by 19th-century goldsmiths hoping (in vain) to emulate its technical mastery and refined detail. The techniques used were imported from the Middle East during the Orientalizing period, and quickly assimilated to near perfection. The finely modeled repoussé head is less than four centimeters long, highlighted with filigree and graining in unparalleled detail. The stylized hair is executed in spirals of fine gold thread, terminating in a centrally placed gold grain. The play of light across the miniscule gold beads making up the beard and part of the hair contrasts admirably with the smooth flesh of the face.

Bibliography

Les étrusques et l'Europe, Paris, 1992, p. 436 et 478, n 599
Cristofani M., Martelli M., L'Oro degli Etruschi, 1983, p. 295-296, n 163
Jannot J. R., "Achéloos, le taureau androcéphale et les masques cornus dans l'Etrurie archaïque", Latomus, fasc. 3, tome XXXIII, 1974, p. 765-789

Technical description

  • Pendant with the head of the river god Achelous

    c. 480 BC

    Chiusi (?), Italy

    Etruria

  • Hammered and cut-out gold leaf with repoussé, chiseled, and filigree decoration and graining

    H. of the pendant: 3.8 cm; L. of the necklace: 36 cm

  • Purchased in 1861, former Campana collection

    Bj 498

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Ground floor
    Etruria II
    Room 19

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