Roman Imperial, circa 1st Century A.D, probably reign of Domitian, A.D. 81-96
Anne Roullet, Egyptian and Egyptianizing Monuments of Imperial Rome, Leiden, 1972, p. 132, no. 277, fig. 289
Maarten J. Vermaseren, Margreet B. de Boer, and T.A. Eldridge, eds., Hommages à Maarten J. Vermaseren: recueil d'études offert par les auteurs de la série Études préliminaires aux religions orientales dans l'Empire romain à Maarten J. Vermaseren à l'occasion de son soixantième anniversaire le 7 avril 1978 (Etudes préliminaires aux religions orientales dans l'Empire romain, vol. 68), Leiden, 1977, p. 645
Giorgio Carredu, Museo Barracco di scultura antica. La collezione egizia, Rome, 1985, p. 19
Katja Lembke, Das Iseum Campense in Rom: Studie über den Isiskult unter Domitian (Archäologie und Geschichte, vol. 3), Heidelberg, 1994, p. 242, KAT. E 45, pl. 34,1
John Cherry, Mythical Beasts, London, 1995, pp. 120-121
Brian Anthony Curran, Ancient Egypt and Egyptian Antiquities in Italian Renaissance Art and Culture, doctoral dissertation, Princeton University, 1997, pp. 86-87, n. 62
Kim J. Hartswick, The Gardens of Sallust: A Changing Landscape, Austin, 2004, p. 190
Molly Swetnam-Burland, "Egyptian Objects, Roman Contexts: A Taste for Aegyptiaca in Italy," in Laurent Bricault, Miguel John Versluys, and Paul G.P. Meyboom, eds., Nile to Tiber: Egypt in the Roman World: Proceedings of the IIIrd International Conference on Isis Studies, Leiden, May 11-14, 2005, Leiden Brill, 2007, pp. 120-123, fig. 3 (p. 121)
Discovery and Provenance
In 1856/58 , during excavations in the garden of a house belonging to a Giovanni Tranquilli, behind the apse of the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, several Egyptian stone sculptures came to light. Similar archaeological discoveries had been made in the area since the 16th Century, and it was known that the nearby church was built on the ruins of a large temple to Isis and Serapis, the Iseum Campense, restored to its full glory and expanded by the Emperor Domitian in the last decades of the 1st Century A.D. The objects found in 1856/58 were described as: a pink granite column carved in relief with an Isiac procession, a granite headless figure of a cow, a kneeling stone statue of a man, or naophoros, a Romano-Egyptian stone stele, a granite sphinx without hieroglyphs, and another granite sphinx inscribed with hieroglyphs on the chest (Ch. Ampere and G. Henzen, "Monumenti egizi, ritrovati in Roma," Bullettino dell'Instituto di corrispondenza archeologica, 1858, pp. 46-47). The Florentine collector of Greek and Roman antiquities Giovanni Barracco took interest in the discovery, convinced the Italian State to purchase the cow and the naophoros for the Florence Museum, and acquired for his own collection the inscribed sphinx, which he published extensively himself as a representation of Queen Hatshepsut; it is now in the Museo Barracco in Rome (Roullet 1972, p. 133, no. 278, fig. 290; Carredu 1985, pp. 18-19, no. 17). Rodolfo Lanciani later gave a more specific description of the uninscribed sphinx, which had remained in the possession of Sig. Tranquilli: it was a Ptolemaic or Roman work made of red granite, 1.35 m. long and .68 m. high (Bullettino della Commissione archeologica comunale di RomaCR, 1883, p. 49; Topografia di Roma antica, Rome, 1880, p. 5; Pagan and Christian Rome, New York, 1893, p. 124); it is now in the Capitoline Museum (S. Bosticco, Musei capitolini: i monumenti egizi ed egittizzanti, Rome, 1952, pp. 23-24, no. 16, pl. X, and M. Malaise, Inventaire préliminaire des documents égyptiens découverts en Italie, Leiden, 1972, p. 197, no. 362).
The Day Collection sphinx is so closely related to the ancient Egyptian example found in the Casa Tranquilli garden and now in the Museo Barracco that it has led Egyptologist Anne Roullet to surmise that it was made as a pendant to the ancient example, and therefore was highly likely to have been found with it: "(?) Found in 1856 with the sphinx now in the Barracco collection, no. 13, of which this one was made as a faithful duplicate, doubtless intended to balance the other on the dromos of the Iseum" (p. 133). Since then several scholars, among them Katja Lembke (1994) and Molly Sweetnam-Burland (2007), have accepted Anne Roullet's statement about the date and location of the present sphinx's discovery. The present sphinx, however, is nowhere described in the 19th century inventories as being part of the Casa Tranquilli find. We cannot, therefore, agree with Anne Roullet's hypothetical statement. All that can be said is that the Roman sphinx is highly likely to have been found in the same area as the ancient original, namely in the Iseum Campense. Exactly where and when this discovery occurred remains unknown.
The Egyptian Original
Identification of the inscribed black-granite sphinx from the Museo Barracco as a representation of Hatshepsut gained wide acceptance since it was first published by its owner, and this is how the object was presented during the 2007-2008 European traveling loan exhibition "Nefer: the woman in Ancient Egypt." However, based on stylistic analysis, another school of thought has emerged (led by R. Tefnin, La statuaire d'Hatshepsout, Brussels, 1979, pp. 153-155), arguing that the sphinx does not represent Tuthmosis III's co-regent Hatshepsut, but one of his queens: "Carved in granodiorite, it has the head of a queen wearing a Hathor wig with a single uraeus and vulture wings over the top. This sculpture, now in the Museo Barracco, was found in Rome in 1856, having probably been carried there to decorate an Isis Temple. Exactly whom the sculpture represents is unclear. The inscription for Thutmose III and the sphinx's Hathor wig suggest that the woman is his royal wife rather than his coregent. Furthermore, the facial features do not resemble Hatshepsut but are a somewhat more delicate version of the elongated ones on the large enthroned king in Turin. The kohl lines angle downwards, a characteristic of sculpture from Thutmose's funerary temple, which was started late in his reign. This suggests that the sphinx was carved after Hatshepsut had disappeared" (Eric H. Cline and David B. O'Connor, Thutmose III: A New Biography, 2006, p. 297).
The Roman Re-creation
In her 2007 article (pp. 122-123) Molly Sweetnam-Burland discusses how the Roman replica from the Day Collection relates to its ancient Egyptian original in the Museo Barracco: "Though they differ in material -- the imported sphinx is of black granite, the Roman-made sphinx of dark green porphyry – they are similar in overall effect, particularly in their coloration, both carved from dark, hard, shiny stone, and form, though the features of the emulation appear more angular. They differ, however, in size – the Roman-produced sphinx is larger – and in that the original sphinx bears a hieroglyphic inscription, roughly translated "[this is an] offering of Mehenpre, given to the king Amun-Re, the ruler of the two-lands." Though it cannot be denied that one is a direct emulation of the other, these differences are significant. Though the sphinxes were found in the same location, we have little evidence that they were displayed as pendants, next to or across from one another. If anything, they seem to have been two in a series of sphinxes, including other imports and other emulations, the arrangement of which in the north end of the Iseum Campense we cannot reconstruct in full. In particular, the missing hieroglyphics alone would signal difference to a Roman viewer. Romans viewed hieroglyphics as a potent and sacred script, at times creating pseudo-hieroglyphics specifically to augment the Egyptian character of a piece. The absence of hieroglyphics on the emulation would be notable, particularly given their prominent placement on the chest of the imported sphinx. These differences do not, however, suggest that the Roman viewer would have therefore seen the sphinx without hieroglyphics as merely a pale imitation of the original. Rather, both would have been seen as authentic but recognizably different Egyptian works, parts of a larger series comprising at least four and possibly more sphinxes, all roughly the same size and all fashioned from what would appear to the Roman eye to be typically Egyptian stone. This series of sphinxes helped set the foreign tone of the sanctuary, reminding viewers of the Egyptian origins of the goddess [Isis] and at the same time drawing upon commonly held Roman ideas about the Land of Egypt."
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