Early Roman Empire   :|:   Document

Boat n°2 on Lansdowne relief

ref. : en.1765.2018 | 26 November 2018 | by Francis Leveque
sculpture | Second quarter of IIe century AD
Latium ( Italie )
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Mythological scene where Dionysos revenges himself on the pirates who wanted to take him to Asia to sell him as a slave. He is here installed in a boat without mat in the company of a single rower.

The Lansdowne Relief was unearthed in 1769 during excavations undertaken the site of the Emperor Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli, 120-138 AD, by the art dealer and archaeologist Gavin Hamilton, who sold it to Lord Lansdowne. It is now displayed in the Greek and Roman Gallery of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

This sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a dark grey limestone relief. It is beautifully decorated with scenes from Greek mythology, all of which are connected to the sea. From left to right (from the viewer’s perspective) we see Odysseus and the sirens; the wine god Dionysos conveying the gift of wine, in the form of a spreading grape vine, across the sea to Greece; and the Argonauts with the man-eating Stymphalian birds.

dimensions :
- height 56 cm,
- width 181.5 cm,
- depth 23cm

This second scene, in the middle of the relief, depicts the wine god Dionysos fleeing the Tyrrhenian pirates after being kidnapped and taken aboard their boat. The pirates, who promised to take him to Naxos sailed to Asia instead, intending to sell him into slavery. In anger Dionysos filled their vessel with vines and wild animals, and when the pirates jumped into the sea he transformed them into dolphins.

This boat does not have a mast. The ornament on the right is swan neck and lets conclude that this is the stern. The one on the left is thicker and represents a horse’s head. The man on the left holds in his right hand an oar. Since he turns his back on the direction of the supposed march, it is concluded that he is paddling, which brings together the analysis of the boat and its silhouette.

An important part of this commentary is borrowed from the analysis of Carole Raddato