The Gallo-Roman God Taranis
Period: 2nd - 3rd century A.D.
Dimensions: H: 12.7 cm (5 in)
Ex – Sir Sidney Nolan Collection, O.M., A.C., C.B.E. (1917-1992).
Intact and Excellent, Beautiful bright patina, minor concretions.
Solid bronze statuette cast in a single piece. The details were further incised with great precision and attention to detail. A circular hole is pierced from the top down, from the center of the head to the rump of the figure. This hole was used to fix the statuette on a longitudinal structure. The flat crown of the head and the general position of the feet suggest that the statuette was attached as a decorative element to a tripod base, possibly a candelabrum or a thymiaterion (incense burner). Such metal supports were indeed commonly used to hold one or more decorative elements, such as oil lamps or incense cups. In our example, the flat crown would perfectly support the plate on which the lamp or the cup was placed. The rump of the figure, as well as the soles of the feet, would be supported by structures of a slightly smaller diameter, thus creating a perfectly organized decorative set.
The figure represented is a middle-aged man. His bare torso shows strong abdominal muscles; the nipples and the navel are indicated; the back muscles are also well marked. He is dressed only in a sort of cloak, which falls over his left arm and wraps his waist and upper thighs. At the back, the garment forms a thick flattened loop that brings more stability to the statuette. The man is seated, his legs bent and spread apart. The right leg is stretched forward, while the left leg is placed further back and provides more support. The figure has no footwear, allowing the viewer to observe each perfectly indicated toe; in the same way, the fingers are accurately represented. The face is particularly well detailed. The iris of each eye is perfectly marked; the handlebar mustache and the bristles of the beard are clearly determined. The finely incised hair is parted in the middle; the wavy locks fall over the forehead and cover the ears.
With his outstretched right hand, the figure brandishes a thunderbolt, creating a swaying movement perfectly accentuated by his abdominal musculature and by his sinuous spine. His left hand would also have held an attribute, now lost, as evidenced by the vertical circular hole. The overall workmanship and the preserved attribute allow us to confidently identify the figure with the god Jupiter, in his Gallo-Roman form of Taranis. This work can be dated to the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. and was produced in Gaul. The hypothesis that the deity would have been fixed on a Roman candelabrum or a thymiaterion leads us to this late date, despite the physiognomic features of the figure that are linked to the original iconography of the god in Celtic art. Taranis was the god of thunder, lightning and cosmic forces. He was worshiped essentially in Gaul and equated with Jupiter, the supreme god of the Greco-Roman pantheon. In fact, the Classical Roman deities imported by the army, the administration and the immigrants of the Mediterranean world did not totally replace the ancestral Celtic religious rites; instead, they rather interacted with them. There resulted the blending or the juxtaposition of two gods (Roman and Gallic). For the Celts, the divine was embodied in nature, in its phenomena and in its diverse places. The divine forces would therefore take the form of animals and mythical creatures. Under the influence of Greek and Roman religions, Gallic deities were still worshiped, but with Roman names and in human form. This phenomenon of religious syncretism thus generated deities known as Gallo-Roman.
According to his customary iconography, Taranis holds the thunderbolt (Taran in Celtic) and a wheel that can be interpreted as a solar wheel, a cosmic wheel of the starry sky or a wheel of the chariot of thunder, the noise that shakes the heavens and accompanies lightning. Given the hole pierced in the left hand of the figure, the object held here may have been a scepter, a distinctive attribute of the supreme god, as represented by Taranis and Jupiter. The type of face here, including the hair, the beard and the mustache, is clearly related to the origins of Celtic iconography, as can be seen on the Gundestrup cauldron, now housed in the National Museum of Denmark, in Copenhagen (a copy is housed in the Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon, France). Composed of twelve richly decorated silver plates, this cauldron, dated to the 1st century B.C., is a synthesis of a part of Celtic mythology. It displays a representation of the god Taranis, seen frontally and with facial features similar to those of our example.
BRAFA, Brussels, 2013
Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), Vol. VII, Zurich-Munich, 1994, s.v. Taranis: pp. 843-845.
Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), Vol. VIII, Zurich-Munich-Dusseldorf, 1997, s.v. Zeus/Iuppiter: pp. 310-486.
On related examples of candelabra and thymiateria with figural decorations, see:
BAILEY D.M., A Catalogue of the Lamps in the British Museum: IV, Lamps of Metal and Stone and Lampstands, London, 1996, nos. Q 3862 (pl. 98-99, Q 3866 (pl. 101), Q 3905 (pl. 122-123).
TESTA A., Candelabri e thymiateria, Rome, 1989, nos. 55-56, 58-59.
On the Gallo-Roman religion, see:
FELLMANN R., La Suisse gallo-romaine: Cinq siècles d’histoire, Lausanne, 1992, pp. 251-289 (religion), p. 257 (Taranis), pp. 252, 254, 261, 273, 275, (Jupiter).
On Celtic art and its iconography, see:
Celtic Art, Paris, 1990 (see especially pp. 154-155 for the Gundestrup cauldron; even though some archeologists question its authenticity, the Gundestrup cauldron still provides for an interesting case study).
DUVAL P.-M., Les Celtes, Paris, 1977.
MÜLLER F. (ed.), L’art des Celtes, 700 av. J.-C.-700 apr. J.-C., Berne, 2009.