Hellenistic Rectangular Wood Panel Representing a Draped Seated Man
Period: 1st century B.C. - 1st century A.D.
Material: Stuccoed and painted wood
Dimensions: Dim: 14.7 x 39 cm
Price: CHF 65'000
Christie’s New York, 14 June 1996, n. 94.
This very thin wooden plaque (about 5-7mm), stuccoed and painted using the fresco technique, was the first right panel of a frieze composed of several elements that were certainly encircled by a frame, now lost (the stucco is missing on both horizontal sides and on the right side; a small square was carefully sawed off). The various panels were attached together by four small cylindrical wooden pegs inserted into the left side of the plaque. The back part is smooth and flat.
The style of the painting is very realistic with lots of sfumati for the rendering of the man’s very short beard, the elements of the face (muscles, eyes, nose), the folds of the drapery and for the details of the chair and the box. In the absence of other elements, it is difficult to determine the original location of this panel: perhaps it simply adorned a wall or a piece of furniture, like a coffer for instance, or a wooden sarcophagus.
The paint is faded but the scene is understandable: a man dressed in a beige tunic sits on a high backed seat, made comfortable by a pink pillow; a white coat with shades of gray covers his legs, his left shoulder, his entire arm and left hand, like a toga; his bare right arm is raised forward. Behind the chair is a rectangular coffer, closed by a lid: the light beige coloration indicates that it was made of wood. Above, the scene is framed by horizontal lines of gray, blue, and gray-blue and beige paint; the ground is dark gray.
Unfortunately, the right hand and the feet of the man are lost, preventing us from understanding whom he spoke to or what he was doing: the gesture of the right arm and the gaze directed forward seem nevertheless to indicate that the scene included at least one other figure (or even more, taking into account that this is the first section of a larger suite), who was the counterpart to the still visible man. The general iconography and the presence of the wooden coffer (a piece of furniture where one could store volumen or masks) argue in favor of a representation of a well-read man, like an actor or a philosopher, despite his short beard. In this case, his right hand could have held a theater mask or a papyrus roll.
Images of draped and seated intellectuals appear in the Greek world from the 4th century B.C. Among them, the represented figures include men as famous as Menander, Chrysippus, Epicurus, Euripides, etc., but also ordinary citizens. One should also point out the existence of groups composed of several statues of poets seated on chairs next to one another and conversing; a set of twelve such figures excavated in the Serapeion of Memphis (Egypt, 3rd century B.C.) as well as some Roman mosaics (Pompeii) are excellent examples.
On images of intellectuals in ancient times, see:
Musa pensosa,l’immagine dell’intellettuale nell’Antichità, Milan, 2006, pp. 236, n. 17 (Pompeii mosaic).
SCHEFOLD K., Die Bildnisse der antiken Dichter, Redner und Denker, Basel, 1943, p. 162, n. 1.
ZANKER P., Die Maske des Sokrates, Das Bild des Intellektuellen in der antiken Kunst, Munich, 1995 (see pp. 166-167 for the group of the Serapeion
Other painted wooden panels:
PINELLI P. – WASOWICZ A., Catalogue des bois et stucs grecs et romains provenant de Kertch (Musée du Louvre), 1986, pp. 33-40 and pp. 52-53.