- Museum number
Head of a high quality oolitic limestone cult statue of Mercury. Two stubs near the front of the head may be the remains of wings.
Catalogue description: The head of the statue is carved in a highly accomplished manner, the more remarkable when it is remembered that the medium is not fine grained marble. When viewed from the front the face seems rather bland and even mask-like, but the nose and lips were damaged in antiquity and the colour with which the statue would have been painted, now lost, would have enhanced the naturalness of expression and in particular, given life to the eyes. In profile the head is dignified, the physiognomy composed and attractive, and the hair richly textured, with curling scroll-like locks. In terms of Romano-British sculpture, this is a masterpiece.
- Production date
Height: 296 millimetres
Weight: 13.626 kilograms
- Curator's comments
See 1978,0102.2-7 for further fragments of this statue.
The Uley Mercury
The principle cult-statue of the god Mercury which stood in the Uley temple was a little larger than life-size (approximately 2m./6'10" tall), and stood on a base with two of the god's animal companions, a ram and a cockerel. Its appearance can be inferred from the survival on the site of several fragments, including the head, right knee and lower leg, the left thigh, and parts of the animals' bodies. The head, found in the 1979 season of work, had been carefully buried in the post-Roman phase of the building. Carved in local Cotswold limestone, the Uley Mercury is an outstanding work in wholly Roman style, showing little or no sign of native British taste. The technical and stylistic details of the carving indicate that the statue was made in the later 2nd century AD by an artist who was totally familiar with both the Graeco-Roman iconographic tradition and with the distinctive nature of the local limestone. The calm and serene expression of the face has survived the relatively minor damage to nose, mouth and brow: the only lost detail which would have slightly altered its appearence are the small wings which probably rose directly from the curly hair.
The sculpture probably dates to the second century. In the late Roman period it was deliberately destroyed; the leg fragments and torso of the cockerel were incorporated into the pitched stone foundations of a building succeeding the temple; the torso of the ram and the head of Mercury were carefully deposited beneath the cobbled platform surrounding this building. The iconoclasm that destroyed the statue may have been Christian, as Merrifield suggests, though the careful preservation of the head shows that whoever finally disposed of it still regrded it as a seat of power, either benevolent or malevolent (CSIR I, 7).
R. Merrifield 1987 'The archaeology of ritual and magic' p. 96-8, ill. 29
Excavations at West Hill, Uley, Gloucestershire in 1977-9 revealed evidence of a religious site which was probably in use from Neolithic times to the early medieval period. In its Roman phase it can be identified as a temple to the Roman god Mercury. An Iron Age shrine and surrounding enclosure were replaced in the early second century AD by a stone-built Romano-Celtic temple, which was in turn enlarged in the fourth century. Around the temple were other buildings including living quarters, guest accommodation and shops. By the fifth century AD, pagan woship at the site may have been replaced by Christianity.
This head, from the principal cult-statue of Mercury, was found in the 1979 season of work, carefully buried and concealed in the post-Roman phase of the buildings. The appearance of the rest of the statue can be inferred from the survival on the site of other fragments, including the right knee and lower leg, the left thigh, and parts of animals' bodies. A little larger than life-size, the statue stood on a base with two of the god's animal companions, a ram and a cockerel.
The head is an outstanding work. Though carved in local Cotswold limestone, it is wholly Roman in style, showing little or no sign of native British taste. The technical and stylistic details of the carving indicate that the statue was made in the later second century AD by an artist who was totally familiar both with the Graeco-Roman iconographic tradition and with the distinctive nature of the local stone. The only lost details which would have slightly altered Mercury's appearance are the small wings which probably rose directly from the curly hair.
- On display (G49/dc20)
- Exhibition history
1998 9 Feb-3 May, India, Mumbai, Sir Caswasjee Jahangir Hall, The Enduring Image
1997 13 Oct-1998 5 Jan, India, New Delhi, National Museum, The Enduring Image
1984 18 Aug-29 Sep, Bristol Museum, Uley and the Cult of Mercury
- The nose and lips were damaged in antiquity.
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: SF.7902