Roman, Imperial Period, ca. 1st to 3rd century CE. Finely carved in low to high relief - a large section of a marble sarcophagus depicting a winged cherub, perhaps Cupid (Eros), nude and sweetly corpulent, standing in 3/4 view and facing his right, with his right ankle crossed over his left, placing his left hand over his right shoulder, his right arm dangling to a hand that grasps what appears to be a torch with nicely delineated flames. Gracing his wings is a fruit vine or tree. In addition to possessing an impressive understanding of anatomy and an ability to render flesh from stone, the sculptor of this piece was skilled in communicating naturalism in Cupid's facial features - those generously lidded, almond-shaped eyes, apple cheeks, fleshy nose, and full lips - framed by a wavy coiffure with flowing locks. Size: 23.5" H (59.7 cm); 24.5" H (62.2 cm) on included custom stand.
Roman sculptors were particularly skilled at capturing optical effects of light and shadow in order to attain greater realism and as time went on more impressionistic, abstract forms. This example, despite being a fragment, provides a window onto the style and technique of ancient Roman sculpture.
Cupid (Eros) was the mischievous yet endearing god of love, a minion, constant companion, and according to some classical writers, a son of the goddess Venus (Aphrodite). In the Roman period, Cupid had become a child (to the earlier Greeks, he was a muscular youth), but here he retains his mischievous air, ready to help couples fall in love through not-entirely-innocent interventions.
The word sarcophagus literally means "flesh-eater" in Greek. Sarcophagi were coffins used throughout the Roman Empire beginning in the second century CE when inhumation burials became more popular than cremation practices of the Republican and early Imperial periods. The rise in sarcophagi usage was inspired by earlier Etruscan and Greek models. This example came from a particularly luxurious sarcophagus as it was made from marble. Less elite examples were made from other stones, wood, and lead. A wonderful section of a marble sarcophagus intended for an elite individual of ancient Rome.
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection
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