The J. Paul Getty Museum

Relief with the Seer Calchas

Object Details


Relief with the Seer Calchas






along the Via Appia Antica, Villa dei Sette Bassi, Roma Vecchia, Italy (Place Found)


A.D. relief 140–160; head 170–190



Object Number:



145 × 99.5 × 26.6 cm, 408 kg (57 1/16 × 39 3/16 × 10 1/2 in., 899.4768 lb.)

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Object Description

On this relief, a bearded man is seated in right profile on a four-legged stool (diphros) with carved legs and a cushion, and rests his feet on a footstool. With his left hand raised to his check in a contemplative gesture, he supports his left elbow on a gnarled staff held in his right hand. Beneath the chair is a griffin, the symbol of Apollo, god of prophecy. Over his left shoulder he wears a himation that covers his lower body, and sandals. Coiled around the tree in front of him is a snake, which menaces a nest of fledglings and two adult birds perched in the branches. The Pentelic marble head is ancient but does not belong to the original relief; it was recut and restored in the 18th century. The hairstyle and sober expression belong to a divinity, and a hole in the crown for the attachment of a kalathos identifies it as the head of the god Serapis.

Despite the addition of a head of Serapis, the overall scene portrays Calchas, the Argive soothsayer to whom Apollo had given the gift of prophecy. In Homer’s Iliad (II.300-30), the seer foretold that the Trojan War would last for nine years after observing a snake devour a mother sparrow and her eight chicks. The eclectic style of the relief combines the form of a late Classical Attic stele with landscape elements drawn from the Hellenistic repertoire. It was discovered in 1774 at Roma Vecchia in the Villa dei Sette Bassi, which belonged to the senatorial family of C. Bellicus Calpurnius Apolaustus. Such a panel may have decorated a library assembled by a cultured patron well versed in Greek literature. On the underside is a Latinized Greek inscription that reads XEANTHE—likely a version of Xanthe, the former name for Troy.  The inscription may have functioned as a tag indicating the placement of the relief.


Found: along the Via Appia Antica, Villa dei Sette Bassi, Roma Vecchia, Italy

1774 - 1776

Gavin Hamilton, British, 1723 - 1798

1776 - 1805

William Petty-Fitzmaurice, second earl of Shelburne, first marquess of Lansdowne, 1737 - 1805 (Lansdowne House, London, England), acquired from his estate by his son, John Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 1805.

1805 - 1809

John Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, second marquess of Lansdowne, 1765 - 1809 (Lansdowne House, London, England), by inheritance to his wife, Mary Arabella Petty, 1809.

1809 - 1810

Mary Arabella Petty, marchioness of Lansdowne, died 1833 (Lansdowne House, London, England), sold to her brother-in-law, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 1810.

1810 - 1863

Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, third marquess of Lansdowne, 1780 - 1863 (Lansdowne House, London, England), by inheritance to his heirs, 1863.

1863 - 1866

Henry Thomas Petty Fitzmaurice, fourth marquess of Lansdowne, British, 1816 - 1866, by inheritance to his heirs, 1866.

1866 - 1927

Henry Charles Petty-Fitzmaurice, fifth marquess of Lansdowne, 1845 - 1927, by inheritance to his heirs, 1927.

1927 - 1936

Henry William Edmund Petty-Fitzmaurice, sixth marquess of Lansdowne, British, 1872 - 1936 (Bowood House, Wiltshire, England) [offered for sale, The celebrated collection of ancient marbles: property of the most honourable the Marquess of Lansdowne, Christie's, March 5, 1930, lot 93, bought back into the Lansdowne Collection and transferred to Bowood House, Wiltshire, England.], by inheritance to his heirs, 1936.

1936 - 1944

Charles Hope Petty-Fitzmaurice, seventh marquess of Lansdowne, British, 1917 - 1944, by inheritance to his heirs, 1944.

1944 - 1972

George John Charles Mercer Nairne Petty-Fitzmaurice, eighth marquess of Lansdowne, 1912 - 1999 (Bowood House, Wiltshire, England) [sold, Egyptian, Western Asiatic, Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities, ancient jewellery, Isnik and Islamic pottery, Sotheby's, London, December 4, 1972, lot 129, to the J. Paul Getty Museum.]

Beyond Beauty: Antiquities as Evidence (December 16, 1997 to January 17, 1999)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), December 16, 1997 to January 17, 1999
Grecian Taste and Roman Spirit: The Society of Dilettanti (August 7 to October 27, 2008)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa (Malibu), August 7 to October 27, 2008
Collector's Choice: J. Paul Getty and His Antiquities (November 18, 2009 to February 8, 2010)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa (Malibu), November 18, 2009 to February 8, 2010

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