Bronze figure of a cow


British Museum

British Museum

Following the discovery of the ancient Roman cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii in the early eighteenth century, antiquaries and connoisseurs from all over Europe flocked to the excavations there. Many acquired objects from these excavations, such as this bronze cow collected by the Comte de Caylus (1692-1765). De Caylus illustrated the cow in his Recueil d'antiquités (Paris, 1752-68), which was illustrated throughout with objects from his collection. In this ambitious work he sought to show how an understanding of the ancient world could be gleaned from the study of objects, rather than just through historical texts. He also aimed to trace the progress of the art of ancient Greece and Rome. In doing this, he classified objects in a new way, not only by culture, but also by arranging them within each culture from the most primitive to the most advanced - creating a progress of civilization. Bulls and cows were common in ancient art because of their mythical associations and use as sacrifices. The most famous representation in antiquity was the bronze cow by Myron (mid-fifth century BC) which stood on the Acropolis at Athens. It was said to be so lifelike that people thought it was real, calves tried to suckle from it and it appeared to be breathing and about to bellow. Myron also made statues of four bulls. The small figures that survive were perhaps based on these famous originals.

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  • Title: Bronze figure of a cow
  • Date Created: -99/-1
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 16.51cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Subject: mammal
  • Registration number: 1873,0820.26
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Pompeii
  • Period/culture: Roman
  • Material: bronze
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Castellani, Alessandro. Collected by Caylus