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Work Front Section of a Male Head

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

Back of a male head

© Musée du Louvre

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Roman Art

Author(s):
Marie-Bénédicte Astier

Discovered in the French department of Maine-et-Loire in 1836, the treasure of Notre-Dame-d'Allençon features two large repoussé silver heads, typical of the spirited decorative style of Gallo-Roman silversmiths during the third century AD. The soft, understated facial modeling enhances the ornamental quality and extreme stylization of the features. This male head undoubtedly belonged to a divine effigy in a local temple.

The Gallo-Roman treasure of Notre-Dame-d'Allençon

This enigmatic work is one of two large heads discovered among a collection of silverware unearthed by agricultural workers in March 1836 near the village of Notre-Dame-d'Allençon in Maine-et-Loire. The Louvre purchased the treasure from the Angevin scholar Toussaint Grille in 1852. Although little is known of the archaeological context of its discovery, it seems likely that the head was made in a workshop in Gaul: similar silver objects have been found on both sides of the Alps, particularly around Lyon (divine images, portraits of emperors or private individuals and ex-votos of animals). The presence of two silver heads and a votive leaf seems to indicate that this chance discovery was part of the treasure from a local temple.

The decorative aesthetic of the face

Traditionally - but wrongly - described as a "mask", this face is actually the front section of the head of a silver statue (the back section is lost), worked in repoussé and planished according to traditional Celtic techniques. Even more than the head Bj 2102, displayed in the same case, the present example has over-simplified features that give it an almost abstract character. Devoid of any life-like expression, it was probably designed to accentuate the hieratic quality of the figure. The modeling of the features and skin is barely indicated, with the exception of the folds of the neck, and the main anatomical details (the eyes, pierced by a circular pupil, the nose and mouth) are highly stylized and decorative. Worked into fine waves, the hair complements the graphic style of the eye-brows and the contours of the eyes and lips, which are outlined with a thin strip of flesh.

A divine statue from the third century AD

This head was probably part of a divine effigy, whose identity is impossible to ascertain. Some commentators have suggested that it may be a representation of Minerva, in light of a number of dedications to the goddess inscribed on some of the vases in the Notre-Dame-d'Allençon treasure. However, this identification remains uncertain - particularly since the sex of the figure has not been clearly determined. It is difficult to date the object, but the style and technique suggest that it was probably made during the early third century AD.

Bibliography

"Catalogue de l'exposition Trésors d'orfèvrerie gallo-romains", Paris, 1989, p. 98-100, n 29François Baratte, "Le trésor d'argenterie gallo-romaine de Notre-Dame d'Allençon", Gallia, suppl. 40, 1981, p. 30-33, n 2, pl. 6-7

Technical description

  • Back of a male head

    Middle of 2nd or first half of 3rd century AD

  • H. 24.9 cm; W. 13 cm

  • Acquired in 1852 , 1852

    Bj 2103

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Salle Henri II
    Room 662
    Central display case 5

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