Carved in the form of a small naiskos. The lid is in the shape of a vaulted roof with a crowned bucranium in the middle of the pediment with palmette acroteria at the corners. Inscribed: TI.CLAUDIO/ UTILI/ CLAUDIA.ATALANTE/ CONIUGI BENE MERENTI. The urn was commissioned by Claudia Atalante for her 'well-deserving husband' Tiberius Claudius Utilis. The tabula rasa is supported by two tritons with rudders, acting as caryatids. Between them there are two dolphins flanking a shell with a bust of the dedicator, a young woman with a 'melon' hair arrangement. The urn is framed by fluted pilasters and the sides are carved with imitation ashlar masonry and fitted with mortises for attachment of the original lid. The base and lid are not belonging.
Recorded as having been found in a vineyard on Mons Cesena (Pirro Ligorio) Collection of Cardinal Colonna, late 15th century (Pietro Sabino, 1494) In the 'house of D. Tamyra', early 16th century (Mazochius, 1521). This is probably Piero Tamira, who may have belonged to the Tomarozzi family of Rome In a 'private house under the Quirinal', Rome, late 16th century (M. Smetius, 1588) Gardens of the Palazzo Giustiniani Probably Collection of William Ponsonby (1704-1793), Viscount Duncannon, later 2nd Earl of Bessborough, Roehampton, UK; acquired prior to 1751 William Lowther (1787-1872), 2nd Earl of Lonsdale, Lowther Castle, Penrith, UK, thence by descent Lancelot Lowther (1867-1953), 6th Earl of Lonsdale, Lowther Castle, Penrith, UK Lowther Castle sale, April, May and June 1947 With Galerie Cahn, Basel, 11 November 2010
Private Collection, Switzerland
In ancient Rome the remains of the deceased were deposited in a cinerary urn usually with a dedicatory inscription and sometimes a portrait such as in this example. The epitaph is dedicated by Claudia Atalante for her 'well-deserving husband' Tiberius Claudius Utilis. With a name like that, he may well have been an imperial freedman, or the son of one; and since she is 'Claudia', she may have been his freedwoman originally.
The 19th century entry for this urn in Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum lists multiple manuscripts in which this urn has been recorded, dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth century. This was a period of considerable interest in early Christian epigraphy. The Humanist Giulio Pomponio Leto and his fellow Royal Academicians explored the catacombs of Rome and in 1494 Pietro Sabino, a part of Pomponio Leto's group of academics, compiled a list of Christian inscriptions in Rome. This partly survives in a codex in the Vatican Library (Cod. Ottob., Vat. 2015) and this urn is listed there as being in the collection of Cardinal Colonna.
The next recorded owner 'Tamyra' is provided by Jacobus Mazochius in 1521. This probably refers to Piero Tamira (1465 - after 1519), who was a Latin poet, also connected with Pomponio Leto's circle in Rome. For further information on Pomponio Leto and his circle, including Tamira, see Lucia Gualdo Rosa, Patricia Osmond, 'Piero Tamira,' Repertorium Pomponianum, 2009.
The urn is probably one of several acquired in Italy, by William Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon and later 2nd Earl of Bessborough (1704-1793) during his Grand Tour travels, which were then acquired by William, Second Earl of Lonsdale at the sale of the Bessborough Collection, Christies, 10 - 11 July, 1850. We know the urn was at Lowther by 1886 when CIL was published. Many of the Lowther Castle inscriptions are recorded by Michaelis as all having come from the Bessborough Collection, including a number of urns: A. Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, Cambridge, 1882, p. 497, no. 60: Eight sepulchral urns, five from the Bessborough Collection, one from Lord Northwick's, one from Barnes'..... or p. 499, no.95: Four sepulchral urns, three from the Bessborough Collection.....
The female bust’s ‘melon’ hair arrangement indicates a Severan date. Fulvia Plautilla, the wife of the Emperor Caracalla has a similar coiffeur in a portrait now in the Uffizi, Florence (inv. no. 1914.218). Many marble cineraria feature small-scale portraiture. The meaning of the composition is not always clear, and interpretation can be complicated further when considered with the inscription on an urn. Such is the case with this urn for Tiberius Claudius Utilis as it appears to be his wife, Claudia Atalante, the donor of the urn who is depicted. For further discussion of such urns, see D.E.E. Kleiner, Roman Imperial Funerary Altars with Portraits, Rome, 1987; F. Sinn, Stadtrömische Marmorurnen, Mainz am Rhein, 1987.
Ms. P. Sabinus. Marc., 1494, fol. 132 & 215 (‘Collection of Cardinal Colonna’) J. Mazochius, Epigrammata Antiquae Urbis, Rome, 1521, f. 62-3 (‘In domo D. Tamyrae’) Martin Smetius, 1588, no. 112, 3; as recorded in Janus Gruter, 1603, no. 772, 5 (‘In domo privata sub Quirinali’) Pirro Ligorio, Cod. Neap. 1. 39, p. 243; as recorded in Onofrio Panvinio, 1529 – 68, Panvinio Vatic. 6036, f. 60. Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, vol. VI, 3, Berlin 1886, Urbs Roma, No. 15320 (Recorded at Lowther Castle)