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HOME : Classical Antiquities : Classical Masterpieces : Group of Silenus on a boar
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Group of Silenus on a boar - LR.026
Origin: Central europe
Circa: 100 AD to 300 AD
Dimensions: 6.5" (16.5cm) high x 6" (15.2cm) wide
Collection: Classical
Medium: Terracotta
Condition: Very Fine

Location: Great Britain
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Boar on short rectangular plinth mounted by Silenus. Plinth: 10,5 x 7cm H.: 16cm Fully grown large male boar, reproduced with great accuracy in all anatomical details: hoofs, penis and testicles, turned upwards stout tail, pointed erect ears, well developed tusks protruding from the lower jaw, small deep-set eyes, upturned snout with nostrils clearly indicated. The animal sports a short mane from the thick and powerful nape all along its massively built hide; coarse bristle-like hair spring on either side of the compact face. Diminutive element of support at the underbelly of the boar. Silenus is represented in complete nakedness, only the fold of a sinuous himation covering his genitals. His body is juvenile, almost ephebic in appearance, in great contrast to the mature features of his face. The animalistic character of Silenus is expressed by a certain disproportion between the rather large head resting on the slender well-proportioned body, almost directly without the interference of a neck. The Silenus precisely modeled head carries an oval face with a completely bald forehead and symmetrical bushy eyebrows over small round eyes; squat, bulbous nose; full lower lip, the upper lip being entirely buried under a pair of luxuriant mustaches; neat but dense beard which also permits the viewing of his front teeth. Both ears are sizeable and protruding, with short turned upwards horns emerging right beside each one. The statuette is entirely hollow and there are three evident and neatly bored perforations, two on the boar (underbelly and hind side) and one on the back of Silenus. All details are delicately rendered in this supremely executed pair, as one’s attention is firstly drawn to the playful composition of the Silenus on top of the boar, and then to the exquisitely balanced posture of his body, the torso in a powerful, almost violent movement, nimble limbs firmly secured on the boar and spreading towards all four directions, with the grace of a skillful dancer. The impression of a lively movement is underscored by the Silenus raised arms, which effortlessly but vigorously expand and conquer the surrounding space; both hands were possibly clasping clusters of grapes, the right one extending forward was most probably holding tight a cluster which has now been lost. The joyous and vivacious style of this composition, with Silenus appearing in a rather mischievous yet indirect glorification of wine and the god Dionysus, suggests a sense of humor very common during the Hellenistic period. In Greek mythology, Silenus was tutor to the wine god Dionysus and one of his companions. He is typically represented as older than the satyrs of the Dionysian retinue. The original Silenus was initially associated to a rustic man of the forests, having the ears of a horse and sometimes also the tail and legs of a horse. Around the end of the 6th century BC, the name Silenus was applied to Dionysus’ foster father, which thus aided the gradual absorption of Satyrs and Sileni into the Dionysiac cult. Silenus, although bibulous like the Satyrs in the Satyr plays, also appeared in Orphic hymns to be the young god's tutor and a dispenser of domestic wisdom. Sileni are mostly portrayed on ceramics as drunken members of the Dionysian thiasos, notorious consumers of copious quantities of wine, habitually bald and overweight, with thick lips, squat noses and human legs, supported by satyrs or carried on by a donkey. Later still, the plural "sileni" went out of use and the only references were to one individual named Silenus, the teacher and faithful companion of the wine-god Dionysus, described as the oldest, wisest and most jovial of the followers of Dionysus. As mentioned above and on most occasions, Silenus is depicted riding a donkey along the boisterous Dionysian train; besides a brief mention in the 1921 Perdrizet book on terracottas from the Fouquet Collection relative to the statuette of a Silenus on a boar and a 3rd century terracotta figurine from Canosa, originally constructed as a rattle, with Silenus siting atop a boar and holding a wreath which hardly approaches the artistic technique and aesthetic quality of this one, there exist no other known representations of Silenus riding a wild boar. There is a 3rd century terracotta statuette of an eros riding a boar and a 1st century figurine from Egypt of a naked woman riding side-saddle a boar, but boars are not normally the type of animal one would associate with transport. Wild boars were widespread throughout ancient Greece. Their ferociousness, destructiveness and strength made them a worthy opponent for the hunters and heroes of Greek mythology. Boars were often associated with certain gods or as sent by them to punish the human race. Hellenistic coroplasts developed further the humorous concept of humans posing or interacting with animals or just animals as artistic subjects, as a subject offering an escape from the merely human sphere. This is an extremely rare terracotta statuette with a composition which has, to our knowledge and this day, no known stylistic nor iconographic parallels. - (LR.026)


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