A Roman Terracotta Relief of a Marine Thiasos
This wonderful terracotta relief, from the renowned Hubertus and Renate Wald Collection, depicts a Marine thiasos. This is a term used to describe triumphal processional scenes of sea creatures and marine deities, generally as part of the sea nymph Thetis’s wedding to Peleus, or the sea god Poseidon’s wedding procession with Amphitrite. The couple were generally attended by figures such as sea nymphs, Tritons and hippocamps, often with Amphitrite or other Nereids shown seated on the back of a sea monster, or as in this case, a pair of dolphins.
The scene is moulded in relief, showing an Erote leading a pair of bridled dolphins. A nude figure of a Nereid is riding one of the dolphins, with her back to the viewer. Her head is turned back to look at an Erote frolicking in the waves behind her and holding up an unguentarium. There is a splendid-looking Triton behind, with a muscular body and flowing hair, his sinuous tail winding out behind him. The Triton holds a large casket in his right hand with his left arm around an Erote who is perched upon the Triton’s tail.
Such reliefs are known as Campana reliefs. This example would have been a decorative fragment to ornament architecture, and would originally have been painted. From the overhanging upper border / cornice and the perspective of the figural scene it is likely this would have been utilised at the top of a wall. For discussion and similar see Hermann von Rohden, Hermann Winnefeld, Die antikenTerrakotten: Architektonische Römische Tonreliefs der Kaiserzeit, Berlin und Stuttgart, 1911 pl. CXXXIII, for a related example in the Louvre; pl. LXXXVIII for British Museum, acc. no. 1805,0703.302.
The subject of the Marine Thiasos is also found in media such as gems, mosaics, and marble sculpture. One of the most spectacular can be found on the Hellenistic 2nd century BC ‘Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus’, and the subject also becomes very popular on marble sarcophagi, as well as mosaics, presumably a popular choice for the bath-house.
DETAIL OF THE 'ALTAR OF DOMITIUS AHENOBARBUS'
Circa 2nd century BC
Glyptotek, Munich, inv.no 239
'TRIUMPH OF POSEIDON AND AMPHITRITE'
Roman mosaic from Cirta, circa 315-325 AD
The Louvre, Paris
ROMAN SARDONYX CAMEO WITH A NEREID RIDING ON TRITON'S BACK
Circa 1st century BC - 1st century AD
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, inv.no. 06.1205
For further discussion of the subject of Marine Thiasoi see S. Lattimore, The Marine Thiasos in Greek Sculpture, University of California, 1976.
This relief is from the Hubertus and Renate Wald Collection, Germany, acquired from Wilhelm Henrich, Frankfurt, 3 February 1962. Hubertus Wald (1913 - 2005), was a philanthropic collector from Hamburg, Germany, who with his wife put together one of the great collections of 20th century art in continental Europe. Amongst Fauvism, Cubism, Dadaism, and Surrealism, the Walds also collected Ancient Art. Their collection was published: Die Sammlung Hubertus und Renate Wald Hamburg, Hamburg, 1998, pp. 182-183 (this artwork).