British Museum guidebook, £3.50
Height: 3.400 cm
Roman, 1st or 2nd century AD
Probably from the excavations on the site of St Paul's Cathedral, London, after the Great Fire of London in 1666
This goose was once a lamp lid. Similar lids with figures in the round first appeared in the Hellenistic period and were popular in Roman times.
It was once part of the collection of coins, medals and other items owned by William Courten (1642-1702), which he kept in his rooms at the Temple, London. This is probably the goose that Courten acquired from a Mr Bagford.
Courten's surviving manuscript inventories of his collection are in code. The goose appears as 'I goose Rv-a-, Gv, fv\-)., at Paul's', meaning 'one Roman Goose found at St Paul's'. Courten referred to Bagford as 'iagfvp'.
Courten later bequeathed his collection to Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), the founder of the British Museum. The two had been friends since their youth, probably having met in Montpelier, where Courten studied natural sciences. Courten's studies may have attracted him to the goose, and he was also interested in collecting botanical specimens. Courten's was the first and most important collection that Sloane incorporated into his own, and coins and medals continued to be a major part of the collection. The goose was one of a small group of Greek, Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian artefacts that Sloane owned. These were not collected for their artistic quality, but for what they revealed of the customs of ancient peoples.
H.B. Walters, Catalogue of bronzes, Greek, R (London, 1899)
D. Bailey, A catalogue of the lamps in -2, vol. 4 (London, 1997)
A. MacGregor (ed.), Sir Hans Sloane, collector, sc (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)