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Work Cockerel

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


© 1999 Photo RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Roman Art

Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This bronze cockerel is an example of the many ex-voto offerings with animal themes produced in Roman Gaul. It was probably set in a shrine at Lugdunum, now the city of Lyons, and is likely to have been made in the second century, possibly appearing together with an image of the god Mercury. The sculptor has combined Gallic decorative taste with classical realism to create a masterpiece of craftsmanship, remarkable for its minute observation of the bird's movement and posture.

A cockerel as votive offering

This large bronze cockerel was discovered in the river Saône at Lyons, ancient Lugdunum. It was probably made in this region of Roman Gaul in the second century AD. The statuette had a votive function: it will have been placed in a shrine as an object of worship, either because of the powers attributed to it or because of the deity with which the bird was associated. In this instance, it may have accompanied a large effigy of the god Mercury, since the winged creature which is generally dedicated to this god appears beside him on several Gallo-Roman works of art. In fact, there were many representations of the bird in the art of the period, as the Romans loved the pun on the word "gallus", which in Latin means both "cock" and "Gaul".

A combination of classical realism and Gallo-Roman taste in decoration

This bronze was made using the lost-wax technique and combines elements inspired by classical realism with Gallic taste in decoration to great effect. The work is the result of scrupulous attention to detail and close observation of the movements and posture of this feathered creature, which is shown walking along with its right foot thrust out in front. A masterpiece of modeling, the cockerel also reflects the Gallo-Roman taste for purely ornamental rendering of the subject depicted. The arrangement of the feathers, the minutely detailed incisions, and the naturalistic precision achieved by the artist bear witness to a liking for decoration in its own right.

Roman bronzes with animal themes

Roman and Gallo-Roman art depicting animal themes flourished during the imperial period. Bronze-casters produced an abundance of small works intended as ex-voto offerings, as well as statuettes, all designed to decorate private homes. In addition to figures linked to deities and ornamental motifs, their work featured a wide range of animals; lions, bulls, horses, stags, bears, and different varieties of birds (particularly eagles and cockerels) were all part of the craftsman's stock-in-trade. So were mythological creatures, like sphinxes and griffins. As the inheritors of the Greek and Etruscan traditions, the Romans often drew much of their inspiration from Greek models.


Hachet J.-Ch., Les bronzes animaliers. De l'Antiquité à nos jours, Paris, 1986, p. 46, fig. 52

Technical description

  • Cock

    Roman period

    Provenance: found in the river at Lyon, ancient Lugdunum, Roman province of Lyonnaise

  • Bronze

    H. 56.8 cm

  • Acquired in 1858 , 1858

    Br 1092

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Bronzes room
    Room 663
    Display case M7: Provinces of the Roman Empire

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