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Art and Archaeology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 March 2016

Extract

In 1830 a hoard of Roman silver weighing some 25 kilograms was recovered from farmland near Berthouville, between Rouen and Caen. The silver was mostly worked into drinking vessels and associated items such as jugs, ladles, and bowls. Two statuettes of the god Mercury confirmed this as a votive deposit, as indicated by various dedications from Romano-Gallic pilgrims, notably on nine pieces left by Quintus Domitius Tutus (‘Mr Safe’) in the mid-first century ad. Restored by conservation experts at the Getty Museum, the cache – along with several other treasures from Gaul – has served as witness to ‘Roman luxury’ in an exhibition on tour in the USA. The exhibition's catalogue is a volume that earns its place in any classical library. The Berthouville Silver Treasure and Roman Luxury may not add very much to our understanding of luxuria in Roman discourse: it is left unclear what happens when a ‘luxury object’ is put out of circulation, or at least transferred into the enclosed economy of a sanctuary; and if Mercury was a deity of fortune favoured particularly by freed slaves, perhaps a set of silver spoons was not such an ‘elite’ attribute as supposed? Beyond such factors of value, however, the figurative elaboration on display is striking. At the centre of a libation bowl we find the Lydian queen Omphale in a drunken slumber, exposing her derrière – as if to say ‘Beware how you imbibe’. One wine pitcher shows Achilles leaping aboard his chariot, with the body of Hector trussed in tow; turn the jug round, and there is Achilles again, now himself stricken in battle. On another pitcher, Achilles is among Greeks mourning the death of Patroclus; and there is Hector's corpse in a pair of scales, as the price of his ransom is assessed. We would be impressed to find such ‘sophisticated’ iconography upon objects in use at some stately villa at Rome or around the Bay of Naples. What does its appearance in the moist pastures of Normandy signify – at least for our preconceptions of ‘provincial taste’?

Type
Subject Reviews
Copyright
Copyright © The Classical Association 2016 

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References

1 The Berthouville Silver Treasure and Roman Luxury. Edited by Kenneth Lapatin. Los Angeles, CA, Getty Publications 2014. Pp. x + 190. 98 colour and 21 b/w illustrations, 2 maps. Hardback £39.95, ISBN: 978-1-60606-420-7.

2 Roman Sculpture from London and the South-East. By Penny Coombe, Francis Grew, Kevin Hayward and Martin Henig. Corpus Signorum Imperii Romani, Great Britain, Vol. 1, Fasc. 10. Oxford, Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 2015. Pp. xlviii + 135. 20 colour plates, 84 b/w illustrations. Hardback £120, ISBN: 978-0-19-726571-0.

3 Defining Beauty. The Body in Ancient Greek Art. Edited by Ian Jenkins, with Celeste Farge and Victoria Turner. London, British Museum Press, 2015. Pp. 256. Over 250 illustrations. Hardback £30, ISBN: 978-0-7141-2287-8.

4 Dioses, héroes y atletas. La imagen del cuerpo en la Grecia antigua. Edited by Carmen Sanchez and Immaculada Escobar. Madrid, Museo Arqueológico Regional, 2015. Pp. 450. Hardback €30, ISBN: 978-84-451-3511-2.

5 Body Language in Hellenistic Art and Society. By Jane Masséglia. Oxford Studies in Ancient Culture and Representation. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xxiv + 362. 161 b/w illustrations. Hardback £80, ISBN: 978-0-19-872359-2.