Stories and myths from the Roman Empire, £8.99
Height: 6.500 inches
GR 1870.8-20.255 (Bronze 1796)
Bronze figure of a cow
Roman, 1st century BC
Following the discovery of the ancient Roman cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii in the early eighteenth century, antiquaries and connoisseurs from all over Europe flocked to the excavations there. Many acquired objects from these excavations, such as this bronze cow collected by the Comte de Caylus (1692-1765).
De Caylus illustrated the cow in his Recueil d'antiquités (Paris, 1752-68), which was illustrated throughout with objects from his collection. In this ambitious work he sought to show how an understanding of the ancient world could be gleaned from the study of objects, rather than just through historical texts. He also aimed to trace the progress of the art of ancient Greece and Rome. In doing this, he classified objects in a new way, not only by culture, but also by arranging them within each culture from the most primitive to the most advanced - creating a progress of civilization.
Bulls and cows were common in ancient art because of their mythical associations and use as sacrifices. The most famous representation in antiquity was the bronze cow by Myron (mid-fifth century BC) which stood on the Acropolis at Athens. It was said to be so lifelike that people thought it was real, calves tried to suckle from it and it appeared to be breathing and about to bellow. Myron also made statues of four bulls. The small figures that survive were perhaps based on these famous originals.
G.M.A. Richter, Sculpture and Sculptors of the, 4th edition (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1970)
H.B. Walters, Catalogue of bronzes, Greek, R (London, 1899)
Comte de Caylus, Recueil dantiquités égyptienne (Paris, 1752-68)