A Roman marble torso of Asklepius, circa 2nd century A.D.
mounted on a quadrangular mahogany base
H 24,5 cm without the base; 36,5 with the base.
Provenance : Private Collection Paris, France.
The god of medicine is depicted frontally with a bare chest and well defined abdominals, thick drapery wrapped low around his waist and flung forward over his left shoulder.
He stands in contrapposto, weight on his right leg and the slight sway of the bust gives a natural aplomb to the frontal pose of the sculpture. The sinuous line of the torso muscles exalts the movement of the hips.
Despite the absence of the head and arms we can conclude based on the style that the subject of this torso is Asklepios. Particularly typical is the treatment of the himation, which drapes diagonally across the hips and envelops the legs in large smooth expanses.
Asklepios meaning “to cut open”, was born as mortal, the result of Apollo’s love for Coronis. The son of Apollo was educated by the centaur Chiron, who passed his wisdom of healing to Asklepios. It was said that the student surpassed his master after bestowing kindness to a snake, who in return whispered secret knowledge about healing to the God.
However, his tremendous skills in this field, including the ability to revive the dead, alarmed Zeus, who saw that Asclepius had the power to upset the natural order of life and death, struck him with a thunderbolt.
The cult of Asklepios started in Epidauros around the 5th century BC, it grew over the century and spread throughout the Roman world.
In the 3rd century BC he was of the first eastern deities to be adopted into roman state religion, where he was worshipped in both the public and private spheres.
A comparable torso is in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum Inv. no.: GR 6.1865 and another similar one can be found at the Museo Civico Archeologico di Bologna (ref 2621).
-L. Budde – R. Nicholls, A Catalogue of the Greek and Roman Sculpture in the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge (Cambridge 1964) Cat. no. 58
-B. Holtzmann, “Asklepios”, LIMC (Iconographicum Mytologiae Classicae, II, 1, pp. 863-894
-Masson, Présence d’Asclépios/ Esculape en Gaule et dans les Germanies , La praxis Municipale dans l’Occident romain, Presses Universitaires Blases-Pascal, 2010
-MASSON, “à propos d’un relief figurant Asclépios/Esculape conservé au Musée d’archéologie nationale”, Bulletin de la Société d’Histoire et d’Archéologie de Vichy et de ses environs, premier semestre 2018, p. 97-100
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