Culture: Magna Graecia
Period: 4th century B.C.
Dimensions: D: 12.7 cm
Ex- American private collection USA, 1995
This cylindrical stand consists of a short tube of gold sheet with a narrow flange at its bottom and a broad one surrounding the top.
Edged by beaded wire, the complete surface of the upper flange is decorated with a narrative frieze rendered in repoussé and set against a densely granulated background. It shows an Amazonomachy—a portrayal of a battle between Greeks and Amazons— interrupted by scenes of two Nereids sitting on hippocamps. Dolphins, birds, and half-globules are set at irregular intervals between the single figures.
The battle is divided into various groups with nineteen participants altogether. Five are engaged in the main scene, which shows Heracles in a near-frontal pose. With the lion-skin over his left arm, he raises his right arm over his head, swinging his club to attack an Amazon who is already on her knees, hit by a large rock. The hero’s posture, with one leg bent and the other one outstretched, emphasizes the strength behind the mortal blow he is about to deliver. In an even fiercer attitude, a second Greek, his muscular body nude except for a short mantle, uses his left hand to hold the head of a kneeling Amazon. She desperately tries to push him away, but in vain, as he is about to kill her with the short sword in his right hand. At the same time, another Greek attacks her from the other side; naked but for a Corinthian helmet, he holds a shield in his left hand and a sword in his right.
In the second scene, to the right, is another Amazon. While she still holds on to her galloping horse, her upper body is turned backward and her head has fallen down, indicating that she has already been hit with an arrow delivered by the archer to her right.
Dressed in a belted tunic and a cloak, he is once again drawing his bow. Behind him, to the right, Heracles turns up again, swinging hisvclub. One of the two Nereids holds a shield in her hand, dividing this second scene from the third one, which includes three people. Here, in rapid movement to the right, are a nude Hoplite (infantryman) with a pilos (conical hat) and large shield; a wounded Amazon on horseback, her battle axe fallen down; and an archer, who is aiming his bow at her. To his right there is a warrior running toward the second Nereid. The fourth group is formed by a Greek warrior and a collapsed Amazon, who runs to the right, her battle axe over her shoulder. The fifth group repeats the scene of a wounded Amazon on horseback with an archer in front of her. The sixth and last group consists of two warriors in combat.
Here, a subject quite common in Greek art is presented in a rather unusual way. This scene shows an Amazonomachy in its very last stages, at a point when the Amazons have already lost the battle against the victorious Greeks. The presence of the two Nereids, however, is unclear, as is the duel between the two Greeks. Moreover, while the majority of the figures are stylistically homogenous, this cannot be said of the archers. In addition, there are some discrepancies. The composition of the relief figures seems to have been masterfully arranged with the help of pre-existing molds that were not created for this frieze. Nevertheless, the miniature relief can compete artistically with related sculptures on a larger scale. The single figures are beautifully rendered, and the composition is lively
and full of tension.
As long as they have been known, the purpose of roundels of this type has been considered a mystery. Based on a pair found along with glass flasks in a tomb in Ruvo, Apulia, they were considered to have been supports for precious glass vessels. Careful analysis of finds has shown that in graves they usually appear in pairs, placed on both sides of the head. This suggests that they functioned as female head adornments, an interpretation that is supported by clay figures on the pottery of the ancient people of Apulia, the Daunians, as well as in pictorial representations.
The majority of known cylinders are undecorated and feature an ornamental wire decoration on the top fl ange. Only three pairs are decorated like this one, with a figural design rendered in repoussé against a granulated background. Theses are in the Musée du Louvre, Paris; the Museo Archeologico, Napoli; and the Museo Civico Archeologico, Bologna. None of these possess the artistic quality and decorative effect of this piece. The workmanship and style of this object relate it to Etruscan workshops of the fourth century B.C., while its frieze recalls terracotta reliefs from Taranto in southern Italy.
IKER R., A propos des ‘supports de fl acons’ italianes, in T. Hackens, ed., Etudes sur l’orfèvrerie antique (Studies in Ancient Jewelry) (1980), pp. 30ff.
GUZZO P. G. , Orefi cerie dalla Magna Grecia (1993), pp. 260ff.
For related Etruscan material, see:
CRISTOFANI M. and MARTELLI M., L’oro degli etruschi (1983), no. 279.