Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
The raised relief on this thick disc (6 mm) depicts a draped female bust. The woman’s torso is frontal, while her head is turned slightly upward and toward her right shoulder. Her hair is pulled into rolls framing her face; individual locks are faintly indicated and there may be a plain diadem depicted at the top of her head. The woman’s eyes are represented as small depressed points. Her nose has been worn away, and her mouth is worn down to a straight, incised line. Her long, oval face is set on a relatively wide neck, with horizontal folds of flesh indicated. The woman’s sleeveless garment is in place on her proper left shoulder, while it has fallen down, completely exposing her proper right shoulder (1). Raised folds in the drapery are concentrated especially around the proper left shoulder and the breasts. The bust ends just below both shoulders and the breasts. There are no other features on the front of this disc, and the back is flat and featureless.
The thickness of this medallion indicates that it might have been a decoration on an element of wagon equipment (2). The size, depiction, and thickness also resemble a medallion of Aphrodite at the Princeton University Art Museum (3). The relatively large undecorated area around the bust resembles examples said to have been found near Baalbek (4).
The round, relief-decorated discs in this group (2001.179.1 through 2001.192, along with 2002.281) may not all have had the same use, and it is difficult to know what the exact function of each object was (5). Some could have been decorative elements of furniture fittings (6). Others could have decorated horse harnesses or provided the matrix to create decoration for horse harnesses (7). Other potential uses are as decorative elements or models for decorative elements worn by people, as shown on tombstones (8). Some might have been devotional or votive objects in their own right (9). It has also been suggested that medallions of this type could have been used as matrixes to create thin, metal, particularly gold and silver, repoussé appliques as elements of decoration and jewelry, and this suggestion is not mutually exclusive with some of the above (10).
1. Compare a gem at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, inv. no. FG 6274, depicting a woman wearing a diadem and similarly arranged drapery and identified as Tyche; see Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae Tyche no. 10; and a statuette at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, LIMC Tyche/Fortuna no. 66g. See a similar depiction identified as Venus wearing a diadem, holding a cornucopia, and with a shoulder exposed in LIMC Venus no. 265.
2. Compare Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, inv. no. FR 1552 g 8, a fragment of wagon equipment with a panther lounging on a thick medallion decorated with a gorgon head.
3. Inv. no. y605, dated to the third century BCE and said to be from Syria.
4. See H. Seyrig, “Antiquités syriennes: Le culte du Soleil en Syrie a l’époque romaine,” Syria 48.3-4 (1971): 337-73, esp. 367, fig. 6.3-4.
5. Similar medallions are known in other museum collections, including a medallion with a bust of Artemis in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv. no. 74.51.5537, from Cyprus; a medallion with the bust of a woman flanked by a child in the British Museum, London, inv. no. 1975,0316.23. For bust medallions of various sizes (from 1.5 to 13 cm) and levels of relief, see E. Babelon and J.-A. Blanchet, Catalogue des bronzes antiques de la Bibliothéque Nationale (Paris, 1895) 12-13, 55, 65-66, 110, 132, 178, 193, 214, 264, 316-17, 359-60, 369, and 445; nos. 25, 28, 120, 143-44, 253, 301, 400, 434, 491, 622, 712, 715, 827, 844, and 1022.
6. See M. Y. Treister, Hammering Techniques in Greek and Roman Jewellery and Toreutics, Colloquia Pontica 8 (Leiden, 2001) esp. “The Galjûb Hoard,” 253-73, and “Bronze Matrices in the Museums of Athens and Karlsruhe,” 362-71.
7. There are many surviving examples of this type, often with an animal, often a leopard, placing one or both forepaws on top of the medallion. Compare various examples in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, inv. nos. 31630 and Fr. 1552 g 6-8; Babelon and Blanchet 1895 (supra 5) 474, no. 1133; and in the British Museum, London, inv. nos. 1856,1226.867 and 1872,1214.1.
8. See G. Greco, Bronzi dorati da Cartoceto: Un restauro, exh. cat., Museo Archaeologico, Florence (Florence, 1987) pls. 1-3 and 10-13. The horse heads had small round medallions decorated with busts in relief on the mouth, temples, and forehead of the harnesses. See also the gilt bronze horse head in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, inv. no. 54.759, which bears two medallions with busts, similar to this group in C. C. Mattusch, ed., The Fire of Hephaistos: Large Classical Bronzes from North American Collections, exh. cat., Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University; Toledo Museum of Art; Tampa Museum of Art (Cambridge, 1996) 216-19, no. 20.
9. See the representation of an Archigallus (high priest) of Cybele, wearing a wreath decorated by circular medallions with busts, in LIMC Kybele no. 130. Marcus Caelius, a member of one of the three legions destroyed in the battle of the Teutoburger Forest in 9 CE, is represented in a cenotaph wearing various military awards, including phalerae in the form of medallions with heads, including one representing a gorgoneion, on his cuirass; see G. Webster, The Roman Imperial Army of the First and Second Centuries A.D., 3rd edn. (Norman, 1998) 132, pl. 6. For examples of relief bust medallions decorating belts, see F. Safar and M. A. Mustafa, Hatra: The City of the Sun God (Baghdad, 1974) 62, 64, and 210-11, nos. 3, 5, and 198 [in Arabic].
10. For example, 2001.189 and 2002.281; compare 1993.233.
Lisa M. Anderson