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Pompeiian table with wolves

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30179
Culture
: Roman
Period
: Graeco-Roman, 1st century B.C. - 1st century A.D.
Material
: Bronze with silver and niello inlays
Dimensions
: Height: 71.1 cm, length: 81.3 cm, depth: 52.4 cm
Price
: POR
Provenance
:

Luigi Grassi Collection, Florence; Prof. L. Grassi (1858-1937) owned the well-established art gallery in Florence in Via Cavour;

Piero Tozzi Galleries, New York, (1882-1974) acquired August 1, 1946 (inventory docs: No. 760 dated 1947 & 1953);

Exhibited: Smith College Museum of Art, “POMPEIANA” exhibition, Northampton, MA, U.S.A, November 18 – December 15 1948 (one leg) Lot 16

Published: Smith College Museum of Art, “POMPEIANA” exhibition, Northampton, MA, U.S.A, November 18 – December 15 1948 (one leg) Lot 16

Conditions
:

The table is in fair condition. The tabletop and two of the legs are restored from fragments. One leg is a replacement.


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Very few Roman bronze tables survived; among them this present piece is an outstanding example because of its considerable size and elaborate decoration.  The whole appearance is based on a well-balanced design of the plain geometric (top with side panels) and curved and sculptured shapes (legs).

The rectangular top is supported by four slender legs of intricate composition: each leg is a combination of straight, convex and concave parts. Only the upper part reminds an architectural element (shaped as a capital of the pilaster with ivy leaf kymation); the middle part is a fantasy combination consisting of the acanthus scroll with a springing wolf’s head, this part is set above the animal’s lower leg and paw. The animal paws as finials of the furniture legs are typical for the Greek and Roman chairs, stools, candelabra and tripods; however, the spatial arrangements of all three parts of the leg in this piece make them look as individual sculptures.

Indeed, the quality of sculptural modeling of the animal’s head is remarkable. The bronze maker does not miss any single detail: the strands of the thick mane are plastically rendered, with the incision of separate locks; the eyes are pierced, so that the deep shadow from the depression creates a strong illusion of an intense gaze, and the canine teeth appear from the open mouth. The look is fierce and aggressive; apparently the heads maintained the apotropaic function. Wolf is associated with Apollo, Mars, and his sons, the future founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, who were adopted by a she-wolf.

The surface of the legs received an additional ornamentation: it is treated with decorative motives of the olive branches. The front of the upper part has the olive branch in the vertical composition, the leaves and the fruit are arranged in symmetrical way. The middle section has several horizontal bands with olive branches. The ornamentation included the color inlays, now lost; one can imagine that this contributed considerably to the chromatic design of the piece.

The surface of the top and its side panels was richly engraved and inlayed. In the center of the top the foliate escutcheon is engraved; it comprises a wreath encircling a quatrefoil and a palmette motif; the wreath is bound by ribbons. Each corner of the top presents a six-petal rosette or star. Below the top, the two long sides end with rectangular sections each containing a lattice of four-petal rosettes (silver inlay). Silver is lavishly used for the wave borders and the meander frieze which ornate the middle part of each side, while the niello covers the background: the contrasting effect of the shining silver against the black background was part of the sophisticated decoration. Only few other examples with similar silver inlays are known: two rectangular tables with one support (one from Pompeii, National Archaeological Museum, Naples; another one in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art), a couch in the Capitoline Museums, and separate furniture attachments in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples, and the Metropolitan Museum. They dated to the same period and show the taste for the luxury products and exotic decoration spread in the Roman society after the Roman conquers in the East. Since the late 2nd century B.C. the artists and craftsmen of the Greek East introduced the whole variety of things of home design, furnishing and decorative arts which remained unfamiliar to the patricians of the old generation.

The study of the Roman furniture distinguishes five types of tables: a rectangular oblong table with three legs; a rectangular table with four legs; a rectangular or round table resting on a single support; a round table with three legs; a rectangular table on two transverse solid supports. An additional type constitutes a folding table made of wood or metal.

Since the Late Republican period the Romans started to follow the Greek way to recline on the couches during their meals and banquets; the tables were set by their sides, usually each person had his individual table. It is interesting to note that most of the intricate decoration with silver inlays is not on the top of the present piece but on its sides, as if the decoration was conceived to be seen by the eyes of a reclining person.

A particular feature of a wealthy Roman housing was to arrange the dining in the different rooms or areas of a house or a villa depending on the daytime and weather, occasion and number of guests. That is why it was desirable that tables were designed in relatively small or medium size, to be easily carried and removed after the dinner was over. There were also special tables that were placed close to the house shrines, lararia, and were used to keep the vessels for sacrifices and libations.

Exhibited: Smith College Museum of Art, “POMPEIANA” exhibition, Northampton, MA, U.S.A, November 18 – December 15 1948 (one leg) Lot 16

Published: Smith College Museum of Art, “POMPEIANA” exhibition, Northampton, MA, U.S.A, November 18 – December 15 1948 (one leg) Lot 16;   Sotheby’s New York, June 18, 1991, lot 155

Bibliography

Pompeii AD 79: Treasures from the National Archaeological Museum, Naples, with contributions from the Pompeii Antiquarium and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 1978, p. 178, nos. 174-176; pp. 198-199, nos. 245-247.

RICHTER G. M. A., The Furniture of the Greeks, Etruscans and Romans, London 1966, pp. 63-72; 93-95; 110-113; figs. 563-580, 656-657.

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