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Statue of Demeter on an altar


Height: 94.000 cm (statue)

Gift of J S Gaskoin

GR 1836,10-8.2 (Sculpture 1544);GR 1955,2-18.1 (altar)

Room 1: Enlightenment

    Statue of Demeter on an altar

    Roman, 2nd century AD
    From Athens, Greece

    This small statue represents the Greek goddess Demeter, with a torch in her left hand. In antiquity, Demeter was closely associated with the religious mysteries at Eleusis near Athens.

    During the eighteenth century relatively little marble sculpture entered Britain from Greece, as it was still off the main route of the Grand Tour. This changed slowly over the first decades of the nineteenth century. This statue is thought to be from Athens, where it was discovered together with statues of the gods Poseidon and Cybele. It was presented to the British Museum by J. S. Gaskoin in 1836.

    The statue stands on an ornate Roman funerary altar found in a vineyard outside the Porta Appia in Rome, set up by a freedman of the imperial family in honour of his mother. The altar was known since the early sixteenth century and later entered the collection of the Duc de Blacas.

    The method of displaying statues on ancient altars and similar monuments rather than custom-made plinths of a uniform design was first employed in the Papal Museo Pio-Clementino in Rome in the 1770s. In Britain, the renowned collector Charles Townley (1737-1805) was one of the first to adopt this fashion for the display of the sculptures in his London townhouse.

    A.H Smith, A catalogue of sculpture in -2, vol. 3 (London, British Museum, 1904)


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