Young Dionysos with Pantheress
Period: Pergamene style, second half of the 2nd century B.C.
Dimensions: H: 80 cm
Ex- Gioacchino Ferroni private collection, Rome, prior to 1909;
Jandolo et Tavazzi – Galerie Sangiogi, Rome, April 14th – 22nd 1909;
Galerie Helbing, Munich, June 27th – 28th, 1910;
Hôtel Drouot, Paris, March 13th, 1911;
Ex- Georges Joseph Demotte private collection (1877-1923), Paris, 1919;
Ex- Dr. Bres, Villa Fontevieille private collection, Grasse, prior to 1953;
Ex- French private collection.
This marble group is a remarkable example of Greek sculpture of the Late Hellenistic period, superb in workmanship and style. From the point of view of the history of the sculptural type, it presents the motif of which knowledge is mostly based on either small items (clay or bronze appliques and statuettes) of the 4th century B.C. or later Roman representations in larger scale (marble statues or sarcophagi panels). The design and the execution in marble belongs to the so-called Baroque style in Late Hellenistic sculpture; the dynamic poses and the pictorial effects achieved by the vigorous carving technique are its main characteristic features.
The representation belongs to the statuary type called The Resting Dionysos which is well attested in several Roman replicas; the figure with himation around the legs is a variant of the naked figure type. Smaller than life size, the present piece represents the young god of wine and patron of theatre, Dionysos, with the pantheress, his animal companion. The right arm, left hand (probably with the attribute) and the head of the Dionysos figure are not preserved; the analogous representations surviving in sculpture in the round, both statues and statuettes, or reliefs, help to reconstruct the entire piece and the mythological story involved in the depiction. Although the figure appears motionless, the pose captures a pause in the continuing movement and interaction with the other figures. This interaction could be virtual if this sculpture was designed as a single piece, or it could be actual if the marble figure was part of a multi-figured sculptural group.
As a single piece of sculpture, the figure of Dionysos in the frontal composition represents his divine solemn stance, a self-manifestation: a figure in a relaxed posture, completely opened to the viewer. This pose is expressed by the body leaning on the support (a tree trunk, partially hidden by the drapery) on the side allowing the left foot to rest on the back of the pantheress in a casual way, without any heavy pressure on it. Such a motif is naturalistic, and it transforms the image of the god from the transcendental to the realm of a human being (this is an important issue of Hellenistic art). The nonchalant moment continues with the gesture of the right arm raised above the shoulder and the hand placed on the crown of the head – the level of the preserved shoulder indicates this particular composition, also seen in the replicas. The left hand, most probably, held the drinking cup, a kantharos, which is tilted so that the wine is pouring out. The imagined drops of wine spill from its rim and reach the open mouth of the recumbent animal whose head is raised as if awaiting for more of the divine liquid (the inebriation of the animal makes sense in the context of the Dionysian power; the scene is also symbolic and refers to the god who presides over fertility; the developed and full teets of the animal, with no cubs nearby, are also evident marks of such symbolism). Thus, the complete composition of another variant of the type includes the drunk Dionysos supported by a satyr, and a panther drinking from the tilted kantharos; it is survived in the contemporary relief figures of the golden naiskos (small temple) dated to the 2nd century B.C. (Athens, National Archaeological Museum), on the mosaic of Roman time (Antakya, Archaeological Museum), and in several Roman marble statues.
This story-telling motif indicates that both the figures of Dionysos and a pantheress in the present piece are an iconographical extraction from the even larger depiction of the Dionysiac procession known mainly from the later sarcophagi panels of the Roman Imperial period, with its major episodes: the triumphal procession of Dionysos, his appearance on Naxos and finding Ariadne. The festive band of the god, thiasos, consisting of the dancing satyrs and maenads, with musical instruments and drinking vessels, Pan, Silenos, Hermaphrodite, Erotes, centaurs, the exotic animals (elephant, panther, lion), and the god in the middle of the cheerful crowd, proceed in an inspired and ever-lasting mood of joy. The god of wine is inebriated himself and seeks support, usually a satyr standing nearby and helping him to keep his balance. In our piece the neighboring figure is substituted by a tree trunk completely covered from the front by the cascading folds of the long mantle and partially seen from the side (this could be a pillar or a herm in a similar individual composition).
The gesture formed by Dionysos’ right arm and the hand resting on the crown of his head is worth noting; it has been suggested, this represents drunkenness, while ecstasy could be a better explanation. It also evokes the composition of another important sculptural type, the Lykeios Apollo (related to the art of the famous sculptor of the 4th century B.C. Praxiteles; because of this closeness, the type of the Resting Dionysos is sometimes attributed to Praxiteles or his circle) – the gesture may represent the divine epiphany. This became common in the images of Dionysos in Hellenistic art; and is also applied to his seated figure (the relief of the Derveni krater, Thessaloniki, Archaeological Museum, or the cameo with Dionysos seated in the chariot, the Hermitage Museum) thus confirming the supernatural meaning of the gesture.
The figure of the god is semidraped; he wears sandals with a thick sole and an overhanging tongue at the front (this type of sandal is called the lingula). The ample himation wraps the lower part of the body. The asymmetrical composition of the folds is caused by the mantle which is fixed only on one side of the body where the edges of the mantle overlap the left arm at the elbow; the fabric is left loose on the opposite side. This creates the diagonal sweep of the folds at the back of the figure and a deep loop of the upper section in front, creating a sharp contrast between the draped and naked parts of the body. Characteristically, the fabric line drops low, leaving the genitalia seen; such an arrangement is also employed in the statues of Apollo, and significantly, the statues of Hermaphrodite (the best example is a large statue found in Pergamon; Istanbul, Archaeological Museum). In such statues the solemnity of the divine presentation is mixed with the eroticism of the appearance of the human body. It can also be observed that the eroticism of the present image of Dionysos is ambiguous, and the soft shapes and proportions of the body – narrow shoulders, a rather short torso, the high and pronounced hip – all refer to a female body. Although the features described may indicate a very youthful male, the effeminate look of both Apollo and Dionysos became characteristic for their images in the Hellenistic period.
As noted before, the figure itself is not in apparent motion – it is the rendering of drapery that helps it to look dynamic. This impression is supported by the dramatic shadow-and-light effect and the contrast of multiple wide and narrow, deep and shallow folds of the cloth and the grooves between them. The strong division of the billowing tubular folds and the creases is owing to the deep carving combined with the drilling technique. It is also stressed by setting the folds and furrows in different directions, straight and diagonal. The whole structure is divided in a few distinguished planes. The diagonal and S-curved lines constitute the frontal plane while straight and nearly straight lines form the back plane. The drapery there is spread out to both sides of the figure and creates a firm background, as if the latter belongs to a high relief. Structuring the planes is important for the composition of the relief; connection of the projected parts is no less important for the overall security of the marble slab (an old photograph shows that a marble strut connected the pantheress’ head with the background). Such a sophisticated modeling of shapes (almost completely three-dimensional figures against a flat background) allows us to make a striking comparison of the present figure, although much smaller in the scale, with the reliefs of the Great Pergamon altar and to suggest the same time frame for its execution.
The back of the present statue is flattened and treated more schematically. Combined with a very slim and narrow base, this could be a specific shaping of the marble sculpture destined for a setting in a limited space such as a niche of a fountain house or the pediment of a small shrine. Similar modeling is characteristic for the group of sculptures of the second half of the 2nd century B.C, found in the excavations of the Agora of Magnesia on the Maeander (Berlin, State Museums); their setting in a fountain house has been suggested. It could be that the long spiral locks typical for the hair-style of the Resting Dionysos and missing on the shoulders of the present figure were originally added in paint as it was usually done with the details in architectural sculpture. Whether a fountain complex or a pediment, the composition of the architectural structure would require a more elaborate program for its sculptural decoration: the central figure (Dionysos) and additional lateral figures (satyrs and maenads, Pan and Ariadne). This indicates that at a certain point of the development of the motif in Late Hellenistic period the single part (consisting of Dionysos leaning on a support or a figure of a satyr) was then expanded to a group of figures representing episodes from the myth such as the triumph of Dionysos or the Finding of Ariadne on Naxos.
With the exception of the lost portions, the sculpture is very well preserved. There are signs showing repair already in antiquity. The broken areas around the right shoulder and the left arm have remains of the canals drilled to accommodate the iron pins used to fix the broken parts (arm and shoulder): as the marble here has the same weathering as the rest of the statue’s surface, it can be concluded that the restoration took place during the antiquity. This indicates that the statue was highly valued and esteemed; the use of the damaged and repaired object illustrates its continuous use in veneration.
This statue of Dionysos has great significance for art history: it fills the gap in the range of material related to the iconography of the Resting Dionysos type and the Dionysos Procession type.
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