TITLE: Hades and Persephone
PERIOD: 2nd-3rd Century AD
DIMENSIONS: Height 30 cm.
PRICE: 11,500 €
PROVENANCE: From the private collection of D. A., Belgium. Previously it was in a Spanish collection, acquired in the 1980s.
CONDITION: In a good state of preservation. The left arm and part of the crown is missing. The piece was broken at the level of the waist, but it has been rejoined.
A free-standing sculptural grouping of two figures, one of which is lost, with only the feet remaining. Although it has been sculpted in this manner, its provincial execution is evident, as the back section has a shallower relief. It is only meant to be seen from the front, and here the width is less that it would be if it were proportional.
The grouping is of Hades on the left and possibly, what was a figure of Persephone on the right. Between them, and serving as a manner of support for both figures, is an architectural element with a geometric form which could represent a funerary stele typical of Roman art or a platonic solid form. It could also be a tomb, a characteristic element that could be a reference to both protagonists.
Hades is represented as a bearded, middle-aged figure with abundant hair falling down to his shoulders and wearing a tunic. He is placed with his right foot slightly in front of his left one and with his gaze directed to the right. His arms are separate from his body and the left is curved around, and holding a sceptre or staff. This original reached down to his feet but only the upper section of it now remains. Next to him can be found two fragments of what were, most probably, Persephone’s feet.
Hades was the name of this god for the Greeks; he was Pluto for the Romans. He is the son of Cronus and Rhea, and the brother of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera and Demeter. With Zeus and Poseidon, he is one of the three sovereigns who shared out the empire of the universe after the victory over the Titans. Hades became the ruler of the underworld, the inferno, or Tartarus.
According to the legend, Hades, in love with the young Persephone, abducted her while she was picking flowers with some nymphs on the plain of Enna, Sicily. The abduction took place in complicity with Zeus and in Demeter’s absence. Finally, Zeus ordered Hades to return Persephone to her mother, but inadvertently or perhaps tempted by Hades, she had eaten a grain of pomegranate. As she was not allowed to eat any food in the underworld, this was enough to chain her to the underworld forever. However, to mitigate his sentence, Zeus decided to let her divide her time between the underworld and the earth.
The Romans brought two important innovations to the world of sculpture: portraiture and historical reliefs, neither of which existed in the Greek world. However, they followed Greek models for a great part of their production of sculpture, which in Rome formed the base but combined with the Etruscan tradition. After the first contacts with Greek classicism through the colonies of Magna Grecia, in 212 B.C. the Romans conquered Syracuse, an important Greek colony in Sicily, the home of a great number of Hellenic works. The city was sacked and its artistic treasures were carried off to Rome, where the new style of these works soon took the place of the Etrusco-Roman tradition prevailing up to that time. Cato himself denounced the sacking and the decoration of Rome with the Hellenic works, as he considered this a dangerous influence on the native culture, and he deplored the fact that Romans welcomed the statues of Corinth and Athens, at the same time ridiculing the decorative tradition of the ancient Roman temples. However, this reaction in opposition was in vain. Greek art had dominated Etrusco-Roman in general, to the point where Greek statues had become one of the most prized objects of booty in war, and were put on show in the triumphal processions of the conquering generals.