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Bronze Statue of Septimius Severus

August 29, 2013

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This is a fantastic bronze statue of the Emperor Septimius Severus housed in the Cyprus Museum, Nicosia. It is the only large bronze statue to have been found on the island. Septimius Severus, born 145 AD, was Emperor of Rome from 193 – 211 AD. Septimius was the first Emperor to originate from Africa and died during a campaign in the north of England.

I believe there are two key features of this bronze. The first of these is that it is larger than life at just over two meters tall; this would have been an imposing figure to those looking upon it. The second feature is that the bronze has a perfect body and build. Both the bronzes stature and representation of health, a god like form and power are reminders of the authority of the Emperor and Rome. The stance of Septimius suggests that he is giving a speech to the people or making a decree. Statues of Roman Emperors were regularly portrayed in this kind of pose. I would suggest the pose is intended to make a connection with the people of the Empire.

The story of the statues discovery and restoration is quite remarkable. In 1928 it was found by a farmer whilst ploughing his field in Kythera; this area having been part of ancient Chytroi. The bronze had become severely damaged overtime, joints had come apart and it had separated into numerous pieces. The Cyprus museum undertook a program of restoration a year after the bronzes discovery and in 1929 completed work to the upper body. The second phase of restoration work was completed in 1940 with each section joined together and new feet made. Though the statue was complete a final phase of conservation work was undertaken in 1976 with Septimius returning to public display on a marble pedestal. This seems appropriate as it was likely how it would have been displayed when first unveiled to the public over 1800 years ago,

The bronze has been beautifully restored and is one of the most impressive I have ever seen. Thankfully, for once, I think the photograph actually represents the piece quite well though nothing beats seeing it in real life.

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From → Art

3 Comments
  1. Lucas Dube permalink

    As a note, I feel as though the bronze statue of Septimius Severus is not, as you say, in the state of giving an oration. Instead, the statue seems more reminiscent of the Doryphoros and, in particular, portrayals of Mars Victor, i.e. a spear in one hand, a trophy on a pole in the other. I favor the idea that Severus is portraying himself as Mars Victor as opposed to the Doryphoros, because the Doryphoros is usually portrayed with one hand at his side and because Septimius Severus placed a figure of Mars Victor on the keystone of the main bay of his triple-bayed arch in Rome. Also, the Doryphoros was used as a base sculpture for many emperors including Augustus and Titus. I would like to believe that the use of the Doryphoros-like body and the identification of himself with Mars Victor is a call back to Augustus’ identification of himself with deities. One good example, although it is dated to slightly after the death of Augustus is the Ravenna relief in which Augustus is portrayed as Mars Ultor.

    I should like to see this statue up close to make a closer examination and analysis. I suggest Diane Kleiner’s Roman Sculpture and Fred Kleiner’s A history of Roman Art for their short treatment of the portraiture of Septimius Severus. For a more in-depth look at his portraiture also see Anne Marguerite McCann’s Article on the portraiture of Septimius Severus and Drora Baharal’s discussion on it as well and you can also benefit from the Apotheosis in Ancient Portraiture by L’Orange.

    Enjoy!

    • Thank you for the recommendations for further research, I shall follow these up when I have finished the module I am studying. I certainly see where you are coming from with your suggestion and agree it is possible the intention may have been to draw a comparison with the gods (particularly given the god like athletic build and the design that is larger than life). However, in the movement of the arms I do see some similarity to sculptures such as Augustus of Prima Porta (the positioning of the arms as if they are in a rhetorical pose). I will very much look forward to investigating this further, so thank you again.

      Also I can highly recommend a visit to the museum, this is by far one of the most impressive sculptures but there are many others as well as other beautiful artefacts some of which I have also posted about.

      David

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