The Portland Vase, £5.00
GR Sculpture 1648;GR 1907,12-14.3 (altar)
Young satyr on an altar with Bucrania and garlands
Roman, 1st century AD
From Castel Gandolfo, Italy
Among the works of the famous fourth-century BC Greek sculptor Praxiteles was a statue of a young satyr pouring wine. Sculptures attributed to Praxiteles were much copied in the Roman period and were considered prime embodiments of the Greek ideal by eighteenth-century antiquarians such as J. J. Winckelmann.
This statue is one of a group of four that were discovered in the seventeenth century in the ruins of a Roman imperial villa at Castel Gandolfo, from where they entered the Chigi Collection in Rome. By the early eighteenth century, the collections of antiquities assembled by the great noble families of Rome from the Renaissance onwards began to be dispersed. In 1728 the entire Chigi Collection, together with thirty statues acquired from Cardinal Albani, was bought by Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, thus establishing Dresden as the most important collection of ancient sculpture north of the Alps.
This statue, now without its Baroque restorations, came to the British Museum in 1838, in exchange for a full set of plaster casts of the Elgin Marbles. It is displayed on a Roman altar with rams' heads and garlands formerly in the collection of the Duke of Sutherland. The small wine jug carved on the left side of the altar is very similar to the vessel the statue would originally have held in its raised right hand.
A.H Smith, A catalogue of sculpture in -2, vol. 3 (London, British Museum, 1904)