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Two silver cups with repoussé decoration


Height: 10.300 cm (1960.2-1.1)
Height: 10.300 cm (1960.2-1.1)

Purchased with the assistance of the Art Fund and the Goldsmith's Company

GR 1960.2-1.1;GR 1960.2-1.3

Room 70: Roman Empire

    Two silver cups with repoussé decoration

    Roman, 25 BC-AD 25
    Said to be from Turkey

    A wealthy Roman's tableware

    These cups represent two of the most popular forms of Hellenistic and early Roman silver tableware. Both were decorated by beating out the design from inside (repoussé) and were fitted with a smooth lining to cover the uneven surface of the interior. Some details were highlighted with gilding. The bell-shaped vessel is a kantharos, and was fitted with arching, looped handles and a small foot (all missing). The relief decoration, of very high quality, shows Orestes and Iphigenia, the children of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, during their wanderings following their murder of Clytemnestra.

    The more ovoid vessel is a skyphos, and would originally have had a stemmed foot and a pair of vertical ring handles (also missing) with horizontal thumb-rests. The body of the vessel is covered with repoussé decoration of entwined fine acanthus tendrils, with flowers and small birds. Intricate plant motifs of this sort were extremely common in all media in Augustan art, for example the finely carved acanthus motifs on the Ara Pacis Augusti, Augustus' great marble commemorative altar in Rome.

    Most wealthy Roman families would have possessed services of silver or even gold to be used at formal occasions. Surviving examples were usually preserved through being buried in hoards or by natural disaster as at Pompeii and Boscoreale and are sometimes marked with the weight of precious metal used or the owner's name.

    S. Walker, Roman art (London, 1991)

    L. Burn, The British Museum book of G-1, revised edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)


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