Roman, Imperial Period, ca. 2nd century CE. A marvelous matched pair of cast bronze chariot fittings with projecting snake heads rising in sinuous curves from one side of each. Each is in the form of a tapering, cylindrical shaft surmounted by a rounded finial. Fittings of such fantastical iconography, luxurious material, and impressive artistry would have belonged to an elite member of Roman society. Both come with a custom stand. Size of one: 4.75" L x 2.3" W x 4.75" H (12.1 cm x 5.8 cm x 12.1 cm); height on stand: 5.4" (13.7 cm)
The snakes are nearly identical, with shallow curved incisions giving them diamond-shaped patterns atop their heads and a dense pattern of scales on their exposed necks. Each snake has well-defined eyes and their snouts deeply incised.
Snakes are a common motif in Roman artwork, with a significance that might be surprising to modern people - they were associated with Aesculapius (Asclepius to the Greeks), god of medicine. Snakes (of the non-venomous sort) were kept as pets in Roman households to protect against vermin and mice, while venomous snakes were used in terrible punishments. The artist who created these did not attain enough realism to make the species identifiable, but instead took some artistic license to make them aesthetically pleasing.
Roman chariots were not used for warfare, but instead in circuses and in triumphal processions. As a result, elaborate finials like these became de rigeur, lending a unique look to each chariot, where they were mounted on posts above each wheel. The carriage was supported by leather straps wrapped around the shaft and guided by the projecting arms. This absorbed the vibrations of the wooden wheels, making the ride smoother. Imagine the sun flashing off of the dark, polished bronze that these would have been when made!
Provenance: Ex-private collection of of William Froelich, NY, acquired in the 1960s
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