This article is brought to you by our partners at Milestone Rome, an Italian independent cultural project bringing together digital innovation and art history to share Rome's cultural heritage with accuracy and authenticity. In this article, they examine the inspiration for the Boscoreale series from Manimenti's Franchi Silver Collection; an ancient Roman trove of fine silverware by the same name buried near Pompeii and spared from the volcanic destruction of Vesuvius two millennia ago. Now on display at the Louvre, it is one of the best examples in the world of ancient silversmithing and enduring point of reference for master artisans working with precious metals.


POLITICAL POWER AND PRECIOUS REFINEMENT

OF THE CUPS OF AUGUSTUS AND TIBERIUS

The silver of the ancient Boscoreale treasure shines in the Salle Henri II at the Louvre Museum. This prestigious collection dates back to the early Julio-Claudian period and it was originally composed of 109 items of tableware, mirrors, jewels and 1037 golden coins. The tableware decoration was a device of conversation at Roman banquets and testified to the educated taste and the wealth of the host. Among the finest artwork, the drinking cups were usually paired according to the decorative themes.

 The Boscoreale Treasure, late 1st century BCñearly 1st century AD, silver partially gilded, Louvre Museum, Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities, Sully, first floor, Salle Henri II, room 33, from villa della Pisanella, Boscoreale, (C) RMN-Grand Palais (MusÈe du Louvre), Les frëres Chuzeville

The Boscoreale Treasure, late 1st century BCñearly 1st century AD, silver partially gilded, Louvre Museum, Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities, Sully, first floor, Salle Henri II, room 33, from villa della Pisanella, Boscoreale, (C) RMN-Grand Palais (MusÈe du Louvre), Les frëres Chuzeville

The cups of Augustus and Tiberius are particularly noteworthy for the refined style, the masterly quality of the technical execution and the exceptional iconography. Their form is typical of a low skyphos for wine drinking, fitted with two handles which spatially delimit the two scenes on each cup. The repoussé decoration (hammered into relief from the reverse) represents political allegories and historical subjects, unusual in the Roman silver production. 

The decoration of the Cup of Augustus is fragmentary, although the first episode depicts Augustus receiving the obeisance of the leaders of the vanquished Barbarians. The second complementary scene represents Augustus as a world ruler, sitting enthroned while he receives the homage of a statue of the Victory. The scenes of the Cup of Tiberius develop in two moments temporarily consecutive on both sides, displaying a triumphal procession and the following sacrifice

 Seated Augustus receiving the obeisance of vanquished Barbarians and the personifications of subdued provinces, skyphos from the Boscoreale Treasure, late 1st century BC - nearly 1st century AD, silver with repoussè decoration, height: ca. 10 cm, diameter: ca. 12 cm (20 cm with the handles), Louvre Museum, Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities, Sully, first floor, Salle Henri II, room 33, 1895 from Villa della Pisanella, Boscoreale, (C) Marie-Lan Nguyen

Seated Augustus receiving the obeisance of vanquished Barbarians and the personifications of subdued provinces, skyphos from the Boscoreale Treasure, late 1st century BC - nearly 1st century AD, silver with repoussè decoration, height: ca. 10 cm, diameter: ca. 12 cm (20 cm with the handles), Louvre Museum, Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities, Sully, first floor, Salle Henri II, room 33, 1895 from Villa della Pisanella, Boscoreale, (C) Marie-Lan Nguyen

 The triumph of Tiberius, skyphos from the Boscoreale Treasure, late 1st century BC - nearly 1st century AD, silver with repoussè decoration, height: ca. 10 cm, diameter: ca. 12 cm (20 cm with the handles), Louvre Museum, Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities, Sully, first floor, Salle Henri II, room 33, 1895 from Villa della Pisanella, Boscoreale, (C) Marie-Lan Nguyen

The triumph of Tiberius, skyphos from the Boscoreale Treasure, late 1st century BC - nearly 1st century AD, silver with repoussè decoration, height: ca. 10 cm, diameter: ca. 12 cm (20 cm with the handles), Louvre Museum, Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities, Sully, first floor, Salle Henri II, room 33, 1895 from Villa della Pisanella, Boscoreale, (C) Marie-Lan Nguyen

The prototypes for the cups hark back to the official art production of the middle or late Augustan period. The celebratory and allegorical style which characterizes the silver masterpieces is reminiscent of the processional friezes of the Ara Pacis Augustae (“Altar of Augustan Peace”) in Rome. Moreover, the same Hellenistic plasticity and sense of the atmosphere that enrich the bucolic ornate of the latter also emphasize the very high relief decoration and the spatial disposition of the figures on the cups. The Hellenistic naturalism and regal magnificence governed by the Neo-Attic inclinations thus raise the products of this artistic handicraft to the heights of preciousness. 

Such an expression of political power possibly found the proper enthusiast in the wealthy Campanian who owned the Boscoreale silverware. The entire treasure was found in 1895 in the so-called “Villa della Pisanella” or “Villa di Cecilio Giocondo”, a rural villa at Boscoreale, located on the slopes of Vesuvius near Pompei and buried by the eruption in 79 AD. The treasure was probably hid voluntarily, until it was rediscovered and finally destined to be displayed for the museum visitors enjoyment.


Milestone Rome is an Italian independent cultural project aimed at spreading the love for the Eternal City and bequeathing the truthful knowledge of its cultural heritage through art historical paths enhanced by digital technologies. For more information on our partners Milestone Rome, and to explore the in-depth art history of the Eternal City, follow the links to their website and social media.


References

  1. G. Becatti, L’arte dell’età classica, Milano: Sansoni, 1999.
  2. R. Bianchi Bandinelli, Roma. L’arte romana nel centro del potere, Milano, BUR Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 2004.
  3. A. L. Kuttner, Dynasty and Empire in the Age of Augustus: The Case of the Boscoreale Cups, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995. Online.
  4. Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei, Il Tesoro di Boscoreale : una collezione di argenti da mensa tra cultura ellenistica e mondo romano : pitture, suppellettili, oggetti vari della "Pisanella" (Pompei, Casina dell’Aquila, 20 agosto – 30 settembre 1988), Milano, Franco Maria Ricci, 1988.

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