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Enlightenment: Art and Civilization
'Hand of Sabazius'
Bronze hands of this kind are associated with the cult of the god Sabazius. His cult originated in Phrygia or Thrace and later became popular in the Roman Empire. The Romans associated him with Dionysus, the god of wine.
Scholars believe that 'hands of Sabazius' were placed in shrines or carried on poles in religious processions. Often they are decorated with images such as a serpent, cymbal, pine cone and frog, which are assumed to be religious.
This example was found at Tournai on the Belgian-French border in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century. It was later owned by Dr Richard Mead (1673-1754), collector and physician to King George I (reigned 1714-27) and George II (reigned 1727-60). Mead's important collection contained many antiquities and works of art.
At some point a replica of the hand was made and deposited in the Cabinet des Medailles in Paris. There it was engraved and repoduced in Bernard de Montfaucon's L'Antiquité expliquée (1722), an ambitious visual encylopedia of antiquity. Since then the replica in Paris has both been mistaken for the original and, more recently, condemned as a forgery.