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Bronze head of a goddess, probably Aphrodite

 

Height: 38.100 cm

Castellani Collection

GR 1873.8-20.1 (Bronze 266)

Room 22: Alexander the Great

    Bronze head of a goddess, probably Aphrodite

    Hellenistic Greek, 1st century BC
    Found at the ancient city of Satala, modern Sadak, north-eastern Turkey

    In about 1872 a man digging his field on the site of ancient Satala struck with his pick-axe against this head. A bronze hand also lay nearby. The head made its way via Constantinople (modern Istanbul) and Italy to the dealer Alessandro Castellani, who eventually sold it to The British Museum. The hand was presented to the Museum a few years later. Despite rumours that the whole statue had previously been found, the body has never come to light.

    Although there is pick-axe damage to the top of the head, the face is well preserved. The eyes were originally inlaid with either precious stones or a glass paste, and the lips perhaps coated with a copper veneer.

    The statue has been identified as a nude Aphrodite, her left hand pulling drapery from a support at her side, like the famous statue of Aphrodite at Knidos by the fourth-century sculptor Praxiteles. It has also been suggested that the statue represents the Iranian goddess Anahita, who was later assimilated with the Greek goddesses Aphrodite and Athena.

    The size of the head suggests that it came from a cult statue, though excavations made at Satala in 1874 by Sir Alfred Biliotti, the British vice-consul at Trebizond, failed to discover a temple there. The statue may date to the reign of Tigranes the Great, king of Armenia (97-56 BC), whose rule saw prosperity throughout the region. The thin-walled casting of the bronze head suggests a late Hellenistic date.

    H.B. Walters, Catalogue of bronzes, Greek, R (London, 1899)

    C.C. Mattusch, Classical bronzes (Cornell University Press, 1996)

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    On display: Room 22: Alexander the Great