Ludovisi Throne

Transitional Greek

replicas: from the Louvre, Paris

date of the originals: c. 476-460 BC

provenance of the originals: Villa Verosini in Rome, where the ancient gardens of Sallust were once located; later moved to the Villa Ludovisi, whence its name (it belonged to the seventeenth-century Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi). Now in the Musée des Thermes in Rome.

description: Three relief panels. Plaster replicas; marble originals. This sculpture is not a throne and owes its designation to a vague guess at the time of its discovery. It has subsequently been suggested that the three slabs are part of an altar.

Aphrodite/Persephone Panel (top)

Height 89 cm, width 142 cm, depth 18 cm. The main figure of this central panel is, according to some authors, Aphrodite (Venus) rising from the foam--that is, it represents the scene of her birth. To others, however, the figure portrays Persephone on her annual return from the underworld. The two women helping her to rise, according to the Aphrodite party, are standing on pebbles--therefore, this is a maritime scene. The partisans of Persephone respond that this is obviously a dry land scene with a narrow pit from which no one else but Persephone could rise.

Dry or wet, Persephone or Aphrodite, the relief handles problems of foreshortening remarkably well and shows a good but still not perfect understanding of the rendering of folds. The central figure raises some questions in this respect, but not so the subsidiary ones. The face, which is rendered with noble simplicity, is not a portrait but has the typical generic character of the Pre-Classical period.

Hetaera Panel (middle)

Height 84 cm, width 68 cm, depth 14.5 cm. As to the nude subject of the left slab, she is probably, with certain Spartan exceptions of no consequence, the first female in monumental sculpture to show herself naked before Praxiteles’ Aphrodite. Nakedness was this figure’s professional garb since she pursued the profession of a hetaera or courtesan. Prostitutes like her were affiliated with worship at temples of Aphrodite.

It is a remarkable work, anatomically superior to the central slab with the exception of the crossed right leg, which originates out of nothing above the hip. This figure seated on her cushion was given an elegant solution in all its details.

Woman Burning Incense Panel (bottom)

Height 88 cm, width 69 cm, depth 16 cm. The right slab represents a woman burning incense. As a work, she is of the same quality as the flautist, though the calm and chaste scene attracts less attention.

The length of the legs and the visible foot do not seem to be proportional to the rest, something which once again is characteristic of a still exploratory epoch. The folds above the foot are treated in the same way as those of the two women of the Aphrodite panel. The whole of it is therefore an outstanding work attributable to the same chisel.