Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.09.15

Patrizio Pensabene, Terracotte del Museo Nazionale Romano I: Gocciolatoi e protomi da sime.   Rome:  "L'Erma" di Bretschneider, 1999.  Pp. 320 + pl.  ISBN 88-8265-031-6.  Lire 145.  



Reviewed by Nancy A. Winter, American School of Classical Studies in Athens
Word count: 1246 words

This volume forms part of the on-going publication of the collections of terracottas in the Museo Nazionale Romano in Rome. Focused on waterspouts and protomes from lateral simas that edged the eaves of tiled roofs, the work comprises a catalogue of 501 examples, subdivided by subject type and mould sequences. Appendices include a marble panther-head waterspout, and eighty-one additions to the previously published catalogue of antefixes (P. Pensabene, R. Sanzi Di Mino, Il Museo Nazionale romano. Le Terrecotte III, 1. Le Antefisse, rome 1983). A large portion of the pieces come from the Gorgo collection.

The waterspouts include 189 examples of lion heads, 2 of panthers, 292 protomes of dogs, one boar's head, 44 Silen heads/theatrical masks and one human head. The majority range in date from the first century B.C. to the first A.D., primarily in the Augustan and Julio-Claudian periods, and come mostly from Rome and Latium.

As pointed out in the introduction, after the abandonment of the great centers of production of architectural terracottas such as Orvieto and Civita Castellana, Rome became the home of workshops whose models and types were of Greek origin, but soon developed an individual style that became common throughout Central Italy. Characteristic of these workshops are the so-called Campana reliefs, palmette antefixes and lateral simas with geometric and floral motifs, almost always using waterspouts with human and animal protomes. Their employment was mainly on houses and villas, particularly in the atriums and peristyles. Their numbers indicate an intensification of building activity in the first century B.C., with an expansion in the utilization of architectural terracottas to include not just sacred buildings but also civic and private structures.

Because the examples come mainly from old collections, there are mostly no archaeological contexts with which to date them. Therefore, the discussion includes comparable examples that come from datable buildings such as the Temple of Diana at Norba and the Villa of Livia at Prima Porta. Close parallels for the canine protomes come from contexts in Pompei, but these have never been properly studied or published in detail.

The waterspouts were mostly produced in moulds, and then re-touched while the clay was still damp, particularly for hair on the dogs and on the manes of felines. Generations of moulds were created through the production of new moulds from actual examples, and many different types may have been produced from a single prototype that has been re-worked. Some apparent spouts are not actually functional, particularly the canine protomes, which often are not pierced to allow water to escape through the channel designed between the forepaws.

Of especial use are the general discussions of each type of waterspout that precedes the catalogue. For the lion-head spouts, pages 19-24 are devoted to the historical and typological background for the pieces in the Rome collection. Signaling the two diverse architectural traditions that co-existed in Italy from the Archaic to the Hellenistic period, that of the Etrusco-Italic regions and a second of the area of Magna Graecia and Sicily, Pensabene gives a succinct summary of the styles and their origins, often tracing them back to mainland Greek prototypes or those in major Hellenistic centers such as Didyma, Samothrace, and Priene. Equally valuable, though brief, is the discussion on the use and decoration of the simas, pages 24-27. Regrettably, there is no speculation on the origins of simas and waterspouts nor discussion of some of the earliest examples, such as that on a workshop roof at Poggio Civitate (Murlo, near Siena), datable in the second half of the 7th century B.C. The lion-head spouts in the Rome collection date mostly to period between the first century B.C. and first A.D., with one example of unknown provenience dated to the 6th century B.C., three examples datable to the 4th/3rd century B.C. and ninety-two pieces from the 2nd century B.C. Sanctuary of Diana at Norba.

In the section on the origin and symbolism of the canine protomes (pp. 47-48), the most numerous category of examples in the collection, Pensabene points out the rarity of the subject in Greek architecture compared to the popularity it enjoyed in Italy. The Temple of Artemis in Epidauros, however, employed waterspouts of dog protomes and this had widespread following in Campania and Latium in the second and first centuries B.C., particularly in compluviums and peristyles of private residences. The author attributes this popularity to the symbolism of the dog in the Greco-Roman world, originally valued primarily as a hunter and, as such, the indispensable companion of gods and particularly of Artemis. But eventually the dog assumed the role of guardian and companion, and obtained apotropaic powers. Ancient authors attributed dogs with the power to forewarn of the arrival of danger and recommended their use as guardians of temples for this reason.

Dog protomes in Italy were used almost exclusively on private buildings, as witnessed primarily in Pompei. Sacred contexts are not altogether unknown, such as in the Sanctuary of the Great Mother on the Palatine, where they may have decorated colonnades during the Augustan phase. The period of maximum usage is, in fact, during the Augustan period, and the areas in which they are most frequently encountered are Latium and Campania. Unlike the feline waterspouts that depict only the head of the beast, with water expelled through the open mouth, the canine spouts include the entire forequarters, with an opening between the paws for draining the rainwater from the roof.

Boar's head spouts, by far the rarest type, may have been used only at the corners of simas, as was the case already on the Temple of Artemis at Epidauros and can be verified also in Pompei as well as with the example in the Museo Nazionale Romano (cat. No. 439).

Among the waterspouts that depict human-like heads are Silens and, more rarely, maenads. Occasionally, the Silen heads are depicted as theatrical masks. Pensabene associates all of these with an originally symbolic significance, connected to the cult of Dionysos. Possible confirmation for this is found in the decoration on the lateral simas using this type of spout, where scenes of Cupids on panthers also refer to a Dionysiac cortege.

Special mention is made (p. 65) of the exceptional and well-preserved corner tile decorated with the head of Achelous, found recently in the excavations of a villa near the via Flaminia. The piece is variously dated late 5th or 4th century B.C. and has the opening for the spout below the beard of the river god.

The catalogue forms the bulk of the publication, comprising pp. 75-262. Each piece is classified according to type, and each entry records provenience, where known, a good description, measurements, and bibliography, if published. Unique pieces receive a fuller discussion, fitting the example into the larger picture. Photographs are mostly good quality, though some are poorly oriented and no scales are used.

Altogether this is a careful and scholarly publication of the material and a worthy successor to the volume on antefixes. These volumes will serve as a manual for excavators in Central Italy to determine the type and date of the examples they find. One of the most interesting points that emerges from this book is the fact that lateral simas with lion-head waterspouts, a type that forms the hallmark of the roofs of Archaic and Classical temples in Magna Graecia and Sicily and of stoas in Greece from the late 5th and 4th century B.C. on, are relatively rare in Central Italy until late in the Hellenistic period.

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