17. Roman Bronze Figurines of Deities in the National Archaeological Museum of the Marche (Ancona)

  • Nicoletta Frapiccini, Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici delle Marche, Ancona


Numerous bronze statuettes of deities discovered in the Marche region of Italy probably come from domestic lararia, belonging to the domus or villas in the territory of Umbria and Piceno. They are particularly emblematic for their quality and for their inspiration from Greek statues. Their iconographic scheme, while often displaying the characteristic autonomy of these statuettes, is nevertheless clearly dependent on the prototypes. Furthermore, they confirm that there was in this area a grassroots distribution of bronze statuettes in the domestic sphere. There were numerous bronze artifacts, often of high quality, including well-known statues of medium size, such as the famous Idolino lychnouchos and the Eros-Hypnos lampadophoros from Pesaro. This is indicative of a considerable circulation of these statuettes: they may have been imported, but it is also possible that local workshops created them. One of these workshops might be the foundry discovered in Sentinum (Sassoferrato, Ancona), which some scholars believe to be responsible also for the creation of large gilded-bronze statues.

The collection of Roman bronze statuettes in the National Archaeological Museum of the Marche at Ancona includes numerous representations of deities. The majority of these statuettes are probably from domestic lararia in the territory, which in ancient times belonged to the regiones of Umbria and Piceno. This paper analyzes some of the most interesting statuettes, including the bronze figurines from Sentinum, where a foundry is known to have existed.

The first statuette represents Jupiter (fig. 17.1) and was found in Piandimeleto (Pesaro e Urbino) in 1933.1 It is a bronze statuette of appreciable quality and the subject is rendered following a well-known iconographic scheme, in this case adhered to quite faithfully: the figure is nude, standing with the weight on the right leg, with the left bent and placed behind; the right hand grasps a thunderbolt, the left arm would originally have rested on a scepter. The posture and demeanor identify it as the Type I of Kaufmann-Heinimann, replicated in numerous examples;2 to these we may add also bronze figurines with inverted posture, where the switch of the supporting leg may be a simple variant. The common prototype, replicated at times with considerable liberty, may be recognized in the statue of Zeus Brontaios by Leochares, which has been identified in the marble replicas of Zeus of the Ince Blundell and Cyrene types.3 Our bronze figurine presents a marked suppleness of the bust, a well-rendered softness in the modeling, and a variation in the position of the head, which is directed upward and toward the scepter, rather than down toward the thunderbolt, as in most cases.4 The hair, perhaps originally bound by a taenia in a different material, descends from the summit of the head in flat, wavy locks, which rise in a sort of anastolè or upswept hair over the forehead, increasing in volume around the face and above the neck; this is quite different from the more widespread thick-ringed locks. The closest analogies would be the head of Zeus from Vieil-Evreux5 and the Jupiter of Gran San Bernardo,6 while the mustache and beard appear to have soft lines, similar to those of a head of Zeus at the Liebieghaus in Frankfurt,7 sharing also the slightly pathetic facial expression. These details and the analogous works suggest a date after the end of the first century AD, but not later than the first decades of the second century.

Figure 17.1. Jupiter from Piandimeleto (PU). H: 11.6 cm (4 ½ in.). Museo Archeologico Nazionale delle Marche, Ancona, inv. 186 Image: Nicoletta Frapiccini

This bronze statuette was found by chance in Piandimeleto, in the area of Castellaro/Cabuccaro, at a site that has never been excavated, and we may only hypothesize that it belonged to the lararium of a villa.8 Agriculture, forestry, and sheepherding were common occupations in this area, as were quarrying and artisan activities, thus there were certainly some villas or rustic settlements.9 It is also possible that the statuette suggests the existence of a sacred area, perhaps connected with the local mineral waters, which were held to have medicinal properties.10 The quality of this statuette testifies to the circulation of well-made artifacts in this territory, which was perhaps not completely closed within its own microsystem of roads.11 In fact, the site is located between Sestinum (a veritable crossroads) and Pitinum Pisaurense (Maceratafeltria), along a road that connected the valley of the Pisaurus (Foglia) River with that of the Tiber by way of the Viamaggio pass, a route that led to Arretium (modern Arezzo) and hence to Rome. The area was therefore open to the circulation of goods, influences, and models.

Figure 17.2. Jupiter. H: 11 cm (4 ¼ in.). Museo Archeologico Nazionale delle Marche, Ancona, inv. 563 Image: Nicoletta Frapiccini

A second statuette, of unknown provenance, portrays a majestic Jupiter (fig. 17.2) in a markedly modest version of the “Florence type Zeus,”12 which is considered, even in the most recent studies, to be derived from an iconographic model dating to a Greek original in the late Severe style, identified with the Zeus of Myron at the Heraion of Samos.13 This latter artifact, placed on the Capitoline by Augustus, must have had considerable influence on later representations of the god, which would explain its widespread distribution among small bronze statuettes. This statuette is a far cry from that precious model and constitutes an impoverished and simplified version thereof, which is attested in many other examples.14 The rendering of our example is quite rough and approximate, and the patina is highly inhomogeneous: these observations, along with the fact that the area of discovery is unknown, go so far as to throw doubt on its authenticity.15

Also unknown is the provenance of a statuette of Mercury with petasos and a chlamys folded in a triangle (fig. 17.3). It represents the god according to a widespread model of Polykleitan tradition, inspired by the Doryphoros, but the result of mediation with Late Hellenistic or Roman experiences.16 Undeniable Polykleitan reminiscences emerge through the stance, the rendering of the torso muscles, the position of the head and the hair, with the characteristic “pincer” locks. It may be attributable to Annalis Leibundgut’s London–Copenhagen group, being closer to the Copenhagen variant, which is more dependent upon the Doryphoros.17 There are clear analogies between our bronze statuette and those found in Italy and beyond the Alps, above all in southern Gaul,18 especially with the exemplars from Trento, Trieste, Waldenburg, and Augst.19 The soft modeling and the calibrated a freddo workmanship, which can be appreciated above all in the rendering of the chlamys, would suggest a date probably no later than the end of the first century AD.20

Figure 17.3. Mercury. H: 11 cm (4 ¼ in.), including base. Museo Archeologico Nazionale delle Marche, Ancona, inv. 525 Image: Nicoletta Frapiccini
Figure 17.4. Mercury from Castelfidardo (Ancona). H: 8 cm (3 ¼ in.). Museo Archeologico Nazionale delle Marche, Ancona, inv. 26980 Image: Nicoletta Frapiccini

A second bronze statuette of Mercury (fig. 17.4) was found by chance in Castelfidardo (Ancona),21 not far from the municipium of Auximum (modern Osimo), along a road that led toward the coast to the Roman cities of Ancona and Potentia (modern Porto Recanati-Macerata).22 A rustic villa was discovered at the same site some years later;23 it was concluded that the bronze statuette must have belonged to its lararium. The presence of a lotus leaf suggests an identification with Mercury-Toth, a Hellenistic creation, probably Egyptian, which was very widespread especially from the time of Augustus and in the mid-Imperial age.24 In terms of its general lines, the iconographic scheme of the statuette would appear inspired by a model influenced by Polykleitos. However, the statue reveals also the rhythms of fourth-century BC sculpture, both for its spatial layout and the rendering of the anatomy, which is quite disharmonic. The layout of the chlamys is typical of the Hermes Richelieu and the Praxitelean Hermes Andros-Farnese types,25 as is the hair, which shows Late Classical influences, with a double row of ringed curls.26 The rendering, which is commonplace and in some points quite poor, nevertheless reveals a taste for marked, rippled modeling, together with dynamic aspects in the position of the body,27 which were particularly appreciated from the period of Claudius onward. These considerations, supported by the context of its provenance, suggest a date between the second half of the first century and the beginning of the second century AD.

Two more bronze statuettes were found by chance in Orciano di Pesaro and Montebello Metaurense in 1923.28 The first represents Diana (fig. 17.5),29 one of a large series of bronze statuettes of the goddess as venatrix, with bow and arrows, in a static position.30 The Polykleitan stance, derived from the Amazon type, is conjoined with later features, such as the short chiton with a long apoptygma. The calm stance of the statue is reminiscent of analogous examples, and it is attributable to a model close to the Diana of the Ostia–Berlin–Copenhagen type.31 This statuette also presents a peculiar position of the head, turned toward the right hand, and a hairstyle with diadem, quite similar to the Artemis of Versailles, rather than the more common knot of the Rospigliosi Artemis,32 which is more frequently replicated in bronze statuettes. With its eclectic character, the sobriety of the surface treatment, and the hairstyle, the statuette may be still datable to within the first century AD.

Figure 17.5. Diana from Orciano di Pesaro (PU). H: 11.3 cm (4 ½ in.). Museo Archeologico Nazionale delle Marche, Ancona, inv. 538 Image: Nicoletta Frapiccini
Figure 17.6. Victory from Montebello Metaurense (PU). H: 11.5 cm (4 ½ in.). Museo Archeologico Nazionale delle Marche, Ancona, inv. 515 Image: Nicoletta Frapiccini

The second figurine from Montebello Metaurense, close to the river Metauro, represents Victory atop a globe (fig. 17.6). This example seems to depart from the typical iconographic scheme for bronze figurines of this deity, which usually were inspired, more or less liberally, by the statue of Victory dedicated in Taranto and placed by Augustus in the Curia Iulia in 29 BC.33 Instead of the goddess dynamically posed in flight, she is here represented standing with her weight on her right leg, with the left extended forward and a himation wrapped around her legs. This detail reveals iconographic models of Late Hellenistic influence, also observable in the slender proportions of the figure. Only the measured twist of the bust toward the left, culminating in the head, gives the figure a slight sense of upward thrust, perhaps reminiscent of Hellenistic rhythms. This iconography has analogies in some coinage dating to the end of the third and beginning of the second century BC (where the globe, however, is absent), and on coins from AD 69.34 The decidedly eclectic character and the rendering of the clean, well-defined fabric folds suggest a date in the mid- to late first century AD.

The provenance of the two examples from nearby sites along the Via Flaminia,35 the road connecting the Adriatic coast with Rome, perhaps explains their peculiarity. It is quite possible that along this road there traveled not only trade goods but also bronze figurines, their molds or their models, and it is likely that there were local workshops. It is worth remembering that the exquisite bronze statuette of Victory in flight on a globe, today in Kassel, came from the nearby Forum Sempronii.36

It is plain that the iconographic scheme of all our statuettes, while often displaying the characteristic autonomy of these Kleinbronzewiederholungen (small bronze copies), nevertheless reveals a dependence on prototypes, even when these are liberally influenced by the predominant taste for eclectic creations.37 The figurines also testify that artisans took up models, often quite swiftly, that became part of the figurative repertory of small statue production, and that the mid-Adriatic elite kept up with the prevailing contemporary tastes.

Figure 17.7. The foundry at Sentinum (Sassoferrato [AN]) Image: By permission of the MiBACT, Segretariato Regionale per le Marche, Soprintendenza Archeologia delle Marche — Archivio Fotografico

Finally, an exceptional discovery is the group of bronze figurines from Sentinum (Sassoferrato, Ancona).38 Among these is a statuette of Minerva, found in the excavations in the northwest quarter of Sentinum in 1960, close to a room identified as a foundry (fig. 17.7). This excavation uncovered a large number of Imperial-age pottery fragments in the same context, supporting the dating of the statuette to the second century AD.39 In the nearby room of the foundry, numerous finds in bronze had already been uncovered in 1954, among which were a large number of utensils (fig. 17.8). There were numerous small spatulas, 109 scrapers, 66 pieces of slag, 102 rods and portions of sprues, 4 dowels, 4 rods for dowels, 9 portions of wire, and 4 pairs of pliers. Inside the foundry, finds included many fragments of bronze objects, plaques, waste pieces of cut bronze foil, little fragments of a gilded-bronze horse’s head, a finger of a statue, fragments of garments from statues, and unfinished objects.

Figure 17.8. Tools from the foundry of Sentinum. Sassoferrato, Museo Civico Archeologico Image: Nicoletta Frapiccini

In 1997–98 Giuliano de Marinis conducted new excavations to clarify the nature and use of this building. The exploration, though only partial, highlighted a complex stratigraphic sequence, from the Late Antique to the Late Republican age.40 The identification of probable traces of wooden stairs on the southern wall of a room argues for the existence of an underground level. The excavation was unfortunately interrupted, and a comprehensive layout of the building, which was located in an area dedicated to artisan activities, has yet to be completed.41 Therefore, although these rooms are now almost certainly identifiable as belonging to a foundry, its size and layout have yet to be outlined. This information would be useful to determine whether its function was to create large statues during the Roman age, as Giuliano de Marinis supposed,42 or just small votive and other bronze objects up to the Late Antique period. The fact that metallurgy was widely practiced in Sentinum and its territory is also confirmed by the much older finds of bronze figurines from archaic sanctuaries, which are associated with local workshops.43 These, located in Sassoferrato and the nearby San Fortunato di Genga, testify to the existence of a strong tradition of small-scale bronze sculpture in the area, with roots dating back to an era long before Romanization.


  1. Soprintendenza Archeologia delle Marche, A.V.S., cassetta 6 bis, fascicolo 1. See Galli 1946–48, 3–8.
  2. Kaufmann-Heinimann 1977, 17–18, no. 1, plate 1. See particularly the Jupiter from Paramythia, Epiro (LIMC 8: 432, no. 116, plate 278); the statuette from Köln (Menzel 1984, 191, plate 20); the statuette in Paris (LIMC 8: 430–31, no. 91, plate 275); the statuette in the Historisches Museum Basel (Kaufmann-Heinimann 1977, 18, no. 1, plate 1); and the Jupiter from Verona in Bruxelles (Bolla 1999, 199, plate 1).
  3. See also Beschi 1962, 75–76; Boucher 1976, 70–77; Menzel 1984, 190–91; LIMC 8: 339, no. 195, plate 227.
  4. For the positioning of the head toward the scepter, see the Jupiter from Muri (Bern), with inverted schema (Leibundgut 1980, 16–17, no. 6, plates 11–13); a statuette of Jove in Florence (Muscillo 2015, 66–67, no. 5); and the Jupiter from Montorio Veronese, with inverted position of the arms (Beschi 1962, 75; Bolla 1999, 197–99, plate 2). Regarding the liberty taken in the replication of such archetypes, see D’Andria 1978, 21–31; Leibundgut 1980, 9; Menzel 1984; Koortbojian 2015, 47–48.
  5. Menzel 1984, 188, plates 9–12.
  6. Leibundgut 1980, 14–16, plates 4–9.
  7. Dörig 1964, 262–66; LIMC 8: 340, no. 196a, plate 228.
  8. About the lararia, see Adamo Muscettola 1984; Kaufmann-Heinimann 1998; Cadario 2015, 54–56.
  9. On some sporadic discoveries in the area, see Monacchi 1995, 109, nos. 69–74.
  10. Lombardi and Mazzarini 1995, 67–80.
  11. Mario Luni argues otherwise: Luni 1995, 93–100; Luni 2003, 199–200.
  12. Kaufmann-Heinimann (1977, 17–18, no. 2, pls. 2–3) attributes this statuette to Type II. See the further analysis in Leibundgut 1980, 9–13, no. 1, pls. 1–2.
  13. Berger 1969, 66–92. Iozzo (2015, 63–65, no. 1), accepting Berger’s interpretation, presents a survey of the hypotheses on the prototype. Some scholars attribute the prototype to Pheidias or his school, while others hold it to be a classicistic creation of the Hadrianic period (Neugebauer 1935, 321; Beschi 1966–67, 60; Leibundgut 1980, 12–13).
  14. Leibundgut (1980, 9–13, no. 1, pl. 1–2) distinguished two groups, attributing to the first the statuettes of higher quality and larger dimensions, while to the second, the replicas of smaller dimensions and commonplace workmanship, to which our example may be attributed.
  15. See analogous observations for the series of Mercury with paenula: Bolla 1997, 38–39, no. 7, pl. 4.
  16. On this problem, see Beschi 1993.
  17. Leibundgut 1990, 405–12, no. 195. See also Kaufmann-Heinimann 1977, 29, Type III.
  18. Boucher 1976, 81–84, pls. 32, 142–44, map no. X.
  19. Walde Psenner 1983, 42, no. 12 (Trento); Cassola Guida 1978, 76, no. 60 (Trieste); Kaufmann-Heinimann 1977, nos. 27–28, pls. 17–19 (Waldenburg and Augst).
  20. See also Leibundgut 1990, 411–12.
  21. Frapiccini 2005a, 174, no. 90.
  22. Gentili 1990, 20.
  23. Mercando 1979, 132.
  24. See Kaufmann-Heinimann 1994, 15–16, no. 12; LIMC 6: 508, no. 43–45, plates 276 and 535; Capriotti Vittozzi 1999, 206–9.
  25. LIMC 5: 367–68.
  26. See the head of the statuette of Mercury in Verona (Franzoni 1973, 58, no. 38).
  27. Similar statuettes came from Milan (Bolla 1997, 41–42, no. 9, pl. iv), Trento (Walde Psenner 1983, 49–50, no. 21), Verona (Franzoni 1973, 56, no. 36), and Casteggio (Invernizzi 1996, 30–32, no. 1, pl. xviii, figs. 1a–c).
  28. Soprintendenza Archeologia Marche, A.V.S. cassetta 6, fascicoli 1–2.
  29. Pellati 1929, 502.
  30. See the statuettes in Verona (Franzoni 1973, 86, no. 66) from Monteveglio (BO), in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (LIMC 2: 813, nos. 73, 75, plate 601), and in the National Archaeological Museum of Florence (Cianferoni 2015, 117, no. 79).
  31. Picciotti Giornetti 1979, 23–24, no. 24 (statue from Ostia); LIMC 2: 802, nos. 18a–b.
  32. LIMC 2: 805, no. 27, pl. 592 (Artemis of Versailles); 646, no. 274, pl. 468 (Rospigliosi Artemis). See also a statue of Artemis from Rome, datable at the time of Emperor Claudius, which presents a similar hairstyle and the same diadem: Paribeni 1981, no. 8.
  33. Hölscher 1967, 6–16.
  34. LIMC 8: 242, 18, pl. 168; Hölscher 1967, 18, pl. 1, fig. 5.
  35. Luni and Mei 2013.
  36. Luni and Mei 2014.
  37. See Koortboijan 2015, 43–52.
  38. Frapiccini 1998; Frapiccini 2005b; Frapiccini 2005c.
  39. Fabbrini 1961, 320; Frapiccini 1998, 36–41, figs. 2–3.
  40. Excavations of the Soprintendenza Archeologia delle Marche (not yet published).
  41. Medri 2008, 212, fig. 3.1.10.
  42. De Marinis 2003.
  43. Colonna 1970; Frapiccini 2008; Frapiccini 2015, 595–98.


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