PERIOD: 1st - 2nd Century AD
SIZE: Height 11.5 cm.
PRICE: 4,800 euros
PROVENANCE: Private collection, Paris.
CONDITION: In good condition. The right foot is missing, as is part of the cornucopia and the object held in the right hand.
A statue in bronze representing Mercury, from a lararium, a small shrine to household gods. The god is presented naked in the “contrapposto” stance, to give a sensation of movement, with the right leg in a fixed position and the left further forward as if the figure were taking a step. The arms are slightly extended while the head is looking to one side. This Italian term refers to the harmonious positioning of the different parts of the human figure, giving it movement while at the same time breaking the previous front-facing rule applied in ancient sculptures.
A cape falls down from the left shoulder and is held over the left forearm, also supporting a cornucopia from which the upper part is missing. The head, slightly turned to the right, is looking at the right arm which is holding up an object. The figure has two small wings appearing from the hair on the head, an identifying sign that this is Mercury. In general great anatomical detail can be observed in the working of this figure.
In Roman mythology, Mercury, the son of Jupiter and Maia, was the messenger of the Gods. At the same time he was the god of travelers, of shepherds and of orators. It was his duty to conduct the souls of the dead to the underworld. His name is related to the Latin word, “merx”, which means merchandise, and so he was also the god of commerce.
The lararium was a small shrine in Roman houses in which the family members could place offerings on an altar and offer up prayers to the household gods. These were represented by statuettes called lares, mostly made of bronze. In patrician residences the lararium was in general found in the atrium, the central hall of the residence. In a simpler residence without an atrium, the shrine would be more or less in the kitchen near the central fire.
The technique of lost wax casting is a sculptural procedure using a mould made from a prototype of the piece to be worked, and this prototype is usually made from beeswax. This is covered with a thick layer of soft material, usually clay, which then solidifies. Once this has hardened it is put in a kiln where the wax inside melts and leaks out from expressly made holes in the clay. In its place molten metal is injected and this takes on the exact form of the mould. To extract the final piece the mould must be removed.