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Jasna Jeličić-Radonić ; Filozofski fakultet u Splitu, Odsjek za povijest umjetnosti

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In the context of the spolia from the demolished Temple of Jupiter cast aside into the channel by the branch of the river that flowed alongside the forum in the centre of Salona’s Urbs orientalis a marble sculpture found in almost completely integral condition was found. A statue of a boy seated on an oval base playing with his pet, probably a dog, was one of the favourite motifs of Hellenistic art, known to us on the whole via Roman copies.
The best known replicas of these Hellenistic sculptures come from the Roman period – the boy with a goose from Ephesus for example, in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the Vatican Museums in Rome, or Heracles with two serpents from the Roman Capitoline Museums. These depictions of naked boys usually placed on flat bases of various shapes in a typically pyramidal composition, like the Salona sculpture, and statues of boys or girls with pets in general, were very popular votive gifts meant for the ancient temples (Eileithyia /Agrae, Brauron). Scenes with figures illustrative of everyday life, or genre scenes, appeared for the first time in Hellenistic art, and in the writing of the time, as in the descriptions of the statues in the forecourt of the Temple of Aesculapius on Kos Island (Herondas, Mimiambus IV 30-34) or historical sources where the »celebrated« artist Boethos is mentioned (Pliny, Pausanius).
Particular interest in these motifs of Hellenistic art reappeared in the Roman period, in the Flavian and then again in the later Antonine period. The Salona sculpture of the boy playing with his four-footed friend was probably, from the context of the finds, a votive gift in the Temple of Jupiter. Apart from that, the marble statue of the boy was found together with coffered slabs of the ceiling of the temple with motifs of diamond shapes decorated with acanthus leaves that can be dated to the end of the 2nd century AD. The votive gift of the marble statue might belong to this time as well, since this part of the city was developed during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. A new forum that was to be dominated by the Temple of Jupiter was planned for its centre.
The contented and happy child with a smile on his face expresses the innocence of childhood in contrast with the pathos of the age and exhaustion of figures that are often grotesque, reflecting their interior spiritual lives, a characteristic of Hellenistic art. This is confirmed by a letter of Pliny the Younger to Annius Severus (Epistulae, III, 6) in which there is discussion of the dedication of the bronze statue of an old man in the local temple of Jupiter. Is it possible in this context to consider the genre of the fisherman sculpture found in Salona, although without, unfortunately, any data concerning the place circumstances of the find? This is the marble torso of a fisherman, very expressive in the musculature of the naked body of the old man, who has a scanty subligaculum around his loins. This is a very high quality work of a favourite figure of Hellenistic art that, in the opinion of Nenad Cambi derives from the Flavian age.
The marble sculpture with satyrs, until recently lost, that was from 1857 part of a private collection in Graz, was discovered in Salona probably during the 19th century. A. Schober first published an account of it for the academic community, providing as he did so information about the origin of the work of art, which shows that it was found in the Salona space. It is mentioned by M. Abramić, who states that together with the sculpture of the satyrs, a torso of the Roman emperor from Salona was also purchased.
The group of young satyrs is being attacked by a huge snake that is squeezing their bodies, and the pathetic looks on their faces reveal how helpless they are. The Salona sculpture is probably a Roman copy of some well-known work of art done in the Hellenistic manner, as is confirmed by the finding of a very similar composition in the neighbourhood of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome but also known only from a remark in a letter addressed to Lorenzo the Magnificent long ago in 1488. The long-known group of satyrs from the nymphaeum at the Porta San Lorenzo in Rome, today exhibited in the Montemartini Museum, dated to about 100 BC, is similar in theme and style. The manner of depicting these sculptures is often compared in scholarship with the Laocoon group, the idea being that the satyr group knitted up in the coils of the snake represents a parodic allusion to the Trojan myth.
It is still unresolved what the original purpose of the satyr sculpture found in the nymphaeum close to the Porta San Lorenzo was since it is not in accordance with the cult programme of the other sculptures. Because the satyrs in peril were originally placed in a different context, the question has to be raised whether it was in the usual garden setting of some villa, where satyr statues are a frequent decoration or the space of a shrine, perhaps one to Dionysus? The same question holds true for the Salona group of three young satyrs struggling with the huge snake, since we don’t have any data about the circumstances of the find. In the immediate vicinity of the Salona forum a marble torso was found that, together with the satyrs, found its way into the same private collection and so it can perhaps be assumed that both sculptures derive from the same part of the city. It was in the vicinity of the forum that the theatre lay, and on its southern side the temple of Dionysus, or Liber. Alongside this Salona temple that preceded the construction of the theatre, to which it was clearly connected, there were also other temples. In this place, probably as early as the 1st century BC, there was a cult centre in the complex of which the building of the theatre was later erected, as recently confirmed by the discovery of the basic structure of one of these shrines. The pathetic group of three young satyrs being cruelly squeezed in the deadly coils of the huge snake done in Hellenistic manner was probably related to a cult. Satyrs are closely connected with the cult of Dionysus, terrible god of the primordial power of nature. But also connected with that cult is the Greek satyr play that usually concluded a trilogy. An idea of this is without doubt given by Euripides’ Cyclops together with Busiris, Skiron and Silenus, in which the satyrs are the slaves of some monster, and in this manner their cowardice and cunning are expressed with farce. A perfect reflection of this satyr play is represented by the Salona sculpture. The mythological group with its exaggerated theatrical pathos and the characteristic pyramidal composition is a first rate reproduction of the style of Hellenistic baroque. The sculpture was probably displayed in some public space in Salona. Telling in this respect is its content, related to the cult of Dionysus. Was it perhaps placed in the theatre itself, where there were actually many ancient sculptures? Was the satyr group perhaps a votive gift to one of the temples or shrines near the theatre? In this context it is worth placing the emphasis on the hypothesis referred already to about the connection of the Roman sculpture of satyrs from the nymphaeum near Porta San Lorenzo with some Dionysian shrine as being the original setting of the artwork.
The examples cited show that in the Salona temples there were also artworks of very high quality. Unfortunately, Salona cult sculpture is but little known, whether of depictions of the gods or votive gifts made to them. The Salona pantheon is complemented with relief depictions of various deities and more numerous votive inscriptions, which shows beyond a doubt the practice of numerous cults. The very small number of traces of pagan religious buildings known to date shows, according to Dyggve, that they were systematically pulled down. Should the marked lack of cult sculpture be considered in this light? Were the statues of the gods and their cult communities also destroyed root and branch, like the temples and shrines in which they were originally displayed? The sculpture of the boy at play with his pet, a votive gift in the Temple of Jupiter on the forum of the eastern part of the city (Urbs orientalis), or the group of little satyrs giving battle to the huge snake, which might have belonged to the cult centre of the oldest city core (Urbs vetus) in which Dionysus’ temple and the theatre were located, show the high artistic level of Salona cult sculpture. In this context a rather well preserved marble statue of Venus Victrix from the temple close to Porta Andetria stands out. The marble heads of the goddess with traces of pigment in her hair or that with a floral diadem, like the marble torso of Dionysus, or Hermes, Aesculapius and Heracles, are in no way deficient in artistic quality. But alas they are largely unaccompanied by information about the circumstances of the finds and the locations of the shrines are also unknown. Is this a question of imported Roman works, or could some of them have derived from local masons’ workshops, irrespective of their having been made of marble? Clearly the Salona citizens ordered copies of known sculptures, which is confirmed by the group of satyrs according to the description of the long-since lost Roman artwork, or the similarity with that from the nymphaeum by Porta S. Lorenzo in Rome. Hence it can be assumed that some of the marble replicas of celebrated sculptures might have been created in the workshops of Salona in which they also endeavoured to imitate known models of artworks. It will perhaps be possible to say a little more about this only after more complete research into the Salona monuments, when an attempt can be made to answer the question as to why so few excellent sculptures of a cult nature have so far been discovered in Salona, when the size and importance of the principal city of the province of Dalmatia are considered.

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