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Work The Tiber

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

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Roman Art

Author(s):
Lepetoukha Charlotte

This statue, very much admired since its discovery in 1512, is a personification the Roman river Tiber. It decorated a temple dedicated to Isis and Sarapis, and was the pendant to a similar statue depicting the Nile.
The work explores the river's link to Roman mythology, and its fertility - the river-god is accompanied by Romulus and Remus, the city's legendary twin founders, while the reliefs on its base illustrate their mythic exploits and the river's beneficial effects.

The river-god

The Roman river Tiber appears here as a traditional river-god: a reclining male figure, mature and bearded. The figure's attributes symbolize the benefits that he has bestowed upon Rome: the oar in his left hand represents navigation, and the horn of abundance in his right symbolizes the river's health-giving properties. Beside the sea-god stands a she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, the city's mythical twin founders.
The base of the statue is decorated with reliefs: one features animals grazing, a second depicts navigation, and the last is concerned with the myth of Aeneas.
The work's entire iconographical program is thus devoted to Rome, and to the riches brought by its river.

A much-admired statue from antiquity

This imposing statue was discovered in Rome in 1512, on the site of the Iseum Campense, an ancient temple dedicated to Isis and Sarapis. It no doubt decorated a fountain located along the path leading to the temple, together with a similar statue depicting the Nile, now in the Vatican. Both statues entered the prestigious Vatican collections as soon as they were discovered, after which politics intervened to alter the course of their history.
Both works were seized by France under the terms of the Treaty of Tolentino in 1797 and taken to the Louvre, where their presence is documented until 1811. In 1815, following the defeat of Napoleon, the majority of confiscated works were returned to Italy. The figure of the Tiber, however, was presented to the restored Bourbon monarch Louis XVIII by Pope Pius VII, and remained in the collections of the Louvre.
The figure has been much admired since its discovery. Widely disseminated throughout Europe by means of engravings and copies in marble and bronze, it inspired a number of artists from the sixteenth century onwards.

A statue from the time of Hadrian?

It is difficult to date this statue precisely. The Tiber and the Nile were often represented during the reign of Hadrian (AD 117-138); they featured on Imperial coinage, and there was a copy of each statue at the emperor's villa at Tivoli. In addition, the relief decorating the lower part of the piece is based not on the text of Virgil's Aeneid, but on earlier versions of the epic myth - a choice perfectly in keeping with the tastes of Hadrian, who preferred ancient authors.
Despite these clues, the dating of the piece remains open to debate: while some commentators date it to the late first century AD, it may have been carved earlier. The Iseum Campense was torn down under Tiberius in AD 19, and rebuilt under Caligula (AD 37-41) before burning down in the year AD 80. The figure of the Tiber would almost certainly have been destroyed by the fire, hence a tentative date after AD 80, although its location outside the temple might have saved it from the flames. We cannot discount the possibility that it was in fact created during the rebuilding of the temple, under Caligula.

Bibliography

J. Le Gall, "Les Bas-reliefs de la statue du Tibre", in Revue Archéologique, 1944, I, p. 115-137
J. Le Gall, "Les Bas-reliefs de la statue du Tibre", in Revue Archéologique, 1944, II, p. 38-55
F. Haskell et N. Penny, Pour l'amour de l'antique, la statuaire gréco-romaine et le goût européen (1500-1900), traduction française, Paris 1988, n 166, p. 340-341
R. Turcan, L'Art romain, Paris, 2002, p. 134

Technical description

  • The Tiber

    Early second century AD

    Campus Martius, Rome (Italy)

    Rome (Italy)

  • Pentelic marble (Athens region, Greece), sculpted in the round and low relief.

    H. 1.65 m; L. 3.17 m; D. 1.31 m

  • Former Vatican collection, seized by Napoleon (Treaty of Tolentino, 1797).

    Ma 593

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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Additional information about the work

Numerous restorations.