Table support (trapezophoros) with two gryphos tearing apart a dear


Padiglione Italia Expo Milano 2015

Padiglione Italia Expo Milano 2015
Milano, Italy

Table support (trapezophoros) with two gryphos tearing apart a dear - unknown 325-300 BC, marble, 95 cm high, 148 cm long. In the collective imagination the ancient centre of Ausculum, a
settlement of the Daunii with important ancient remains that developed
on the high plains around the course of the Carapelle,
a small tributary of the southern Tavoliere that flows between
the Dauni mountains and the Adriatic Sea, in the province of
Foggia, is firmly identified with the discovery of a precious and
in some ways surprising marble sculpture, restored to the public
heritage in 2007 and today on show at the Diocesan Civic Museum
in Ascoli Satriano.
The composition in marble of the gryphons, which supported
a shelf also in marble, is part of a series of various objects dating
back to the second half of the fourth century BC (between 330
and 320 BC): besides the trapezophoros, a podanipter, a basin
used for washing the hands during banquets, with its interior
decorated with a painting of the goddess Tethys carrying with
the Nereid sisters the new arms forged by Ephestus for his son
Achilles, a cup-shaped dish on a support bearing the negative
imprint of a crown of ivy, probably in gold, applied to the body
of the vase, two round-mouthed oinochoai, four epichyseis, a
loutrophoros, fragments of another trapeza, phialai and various
marble fragments that were recently given back by the J.P. Getty
Museum in Malibu. The finds, discovered in the mid-1970s
during illegal excavations in Ascoli Satriano, were acquired by
the Californian museum which, following a complex and widespread
investigation by the Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage
Protection Nucleus, had to restore them to Italy.
The extraordinary sculpture, 95 cm high and 148 cm long,
consists of a pair of gryphons, mythical animals with the body
of a lion and the head of a dragon, portrayed with great realism
as they tear apart a deer lying on the ground. The colours are particularly well preserved and show the use of different types of pigment for the details, from the pink that defines the attachment
of the feathers to the body and the inside of the nostrils,
the yellow, of a yellow/beige tone, used for the body of the
gryphons and the very bright yellow of the body of the deer,
and again the red used for the crests of the gryphons and the
blood of the prey dripping from their jaws, the light blue of the
wings, the flight, also used to highlight the deep gaps between
the feathers, and the green used to define the rocky base.
Laboratory analyses carried out during restoration by the laboratory
of the Soprintendenza Archeologica in Rome confirmed
that the objects were made from the same kind of marble, from
quarries on the island of Paros in the Cyclades, and that the
same pigments (cinnabar, cerussite and malachite) were used
for the painted decoration. Further analogies in the techniques
of painting and marble sculpture demonstrate a single source
for the objects, produced in highly specialised craft workshops.
The complex is most directly comparable to the ceremonial
furnishings of Macedonian banquet halls and is the first
archaeological documentation of a symposium service, more
usually made in ceramics.
The absence of the context in which the finds were made, a further irreparable damage to the science and interpretation
of the archaeological heritage caused by the activities of illegal
excavations, does not make it possible to define with certainty
the destination, original placing and function of highly prized
artefacts imported from Greece, certainly destined for those of
high rank. Alongside the hypothesis of funeral objects, recently
the idea of war booty has been advanced, perhaps stored as
treasure or consecrated in a sanctuary, the result of the sacking
of the camps of Pyrrhus by Arpanians and Ascolanians, allies
of the Romans, in the famous Battle of Ausculum in 279 BC, a
key moment in the glory of the nobilitas of the Daunii and in the
reinforcement of the image of members of aristocratic groups
through prestige signa.
Luigi La Rocca
Superintendent for archaeological resources, Puglia

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  • Title: Table support (trapezophoros) with two gryphos tearing apart a dear
  • Creator: Anonimous