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RCEWA Case 8 (2014-15): A marble statue of Aphrodite
Expert adviser’s statement
Reviewing Committee Secretary’s note: Please note that any
illustrations referred to have not been reproduced on the Arts Council
England website
Brief Description of item(s)
 What is it?
Roman adaptation of a late fifth-century BC, Greek statue, probably
representing the goddess Aphrodite.
What is it made of?
 What are its measurements?
Height: 203.2 cm
 Who is the artist/maker and what are their dates?
Unknown sculptor from the early first century AD
What date is the item?
Roman Imperial, early first century AD, based on a Greek original of about
430-420 B.C.
 What condition is it in?
The statue is extremely well preserved: the forearms and attributes are
the only major restorations. It has recently been cleaned, probably in
preparation for its sale.
Cardinals Paolo Emilio Cesi (1481-1537) and Federico Cesi (1500-1565),
garden of the Palazzo Cesi on the Janiculum, Rome, acquired prior to 1550
Robert and James Adam (1728-1792 and 1732-1794), Rome and London
(Christie’s, London, March 1st, 1773, lot 51 (Antique Statues in Marble, p.15)
Sir Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland (1714-1786), Syon House,
Middlesex, acquired from the above; by descent to the present owner until the
present day, Syon House, Middlesex
Key literary and exhibition references
Ulisse Aldroandi, ‘Tutte le statue antiche, che in Roma in diversi luoghi, e
case particolari si veggono’, p. 124, in Lucio Mauro, Le antichità della
città di Roma, Venice, 1562
Giovanni Battista de Cavalieri (Cavalleriis), Antiquarum statuarum Urbis
Romae, Rome, 1585, pi. 25
George James Aungier, The History and Antiquities of Syon
Monastery, the Parish of Isleworth,and the Chapelry of Hounslow,
London, 1840, p. 117
Christan Hulsen, Die Ròmische Antikengàrten des XVI. Jahrhunderts,
1917, pp. 4, 22 (no. 71, fig. 12), 38
Frederik Poulsen, Greek and Roman Portraits in English Country
Houses, Rome, 1923, pp. 16-17, fig. 13
Cornelius C. Vermeule, ‘Notes on a New Edition of Michaelis: Ancient
Marbles in Great Britain,’ American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 59, 1955,
pp. 147-148
Lorenz E. Baumer, Vorbilder und Vorlagen: Studien zu klassischen
Frauenstatuen und ihrer Verwendung fur Reliefs und Statuetten des 5.
und 4. Jahrhunderts vor Christus, Bern, 1997, no. G 2/2, pi. 3, 4-6
Claudia Valéri and Fausto Zevi, Marmora Phlegraea: Sculture dal Rione
Terra di Pozzuoli (Monografie della Rivista archaeologica classica, vol.
2), Rome, 2005, p. 87, note 278
Sascha Kansteiner, ‘Kopfeiner Statue der Aphrodite’ Caiete ARA, vol. 4,
2013, p. 13, note 12 Arachne, no. 51650 (
Waverley criteria
Which of the Waverley criteria does the item meet? (If it is of
‘outstanding significance for the study of some particular branch of art
learning or history’ which area of art learning or history).
The statue meets all three Waverley Criteria.
 Very briefly why?
The statue is a prime example of the Roman sculptures collected by
English aristocrats in the eighteenth century that had considerable
influence on art and taste in the great period of neoclassicism in
Britain. Undoubtedly the most significant ancient sculpture at Syon
House, it appears to have been deliberately purchased by the 1st Duke
of Northumberland from the Adam brothers’ own collection to form an
integral element of their interior design for the Great Hall there.
The statue is extremely finely carved, and is a rare example of a
Roman adaptation of a Greek, late fifth century BC type, probably
representing the goddess Aphrodite. The form of the body, with its
luxuriant, flowing drapery echoes those of the goddesses shown in the
pediments of the Parthenon. There are only a small number of fulllength statues representing Greek goddesses in British collections, few
of which could rival this piece in terms of quality of execution. For the
statue to have survived with its original head intact is truly remarkable.
The extensive bibliography on the sculpture reveals its
significance in several disciplines. In its Roman context it is important
in understanding the development of Classical art. The statue should
play a major role in the study of the reception of Greek art during the
Roman period. As part of reception studies and the history of
collecting, it has a particularly long and remarkable story to tell, relating
the rich and socially powerful families of Rome during the Italian
Renaissance to the hunger for Classical art amongst English
aristocrats influenced by the Grand Tour. It is also significant in the
history of architecture and interior design, particularly relating to the
work of the Adam brothers.
Detailed description of item(s) if more than in Executive summary,
and any comments.
The statue has been variously identified over the centuries. In early studies
the figure was thought to have had a restored head, one that was identified as
a Roman empress, either Agrippina or Livia. The discovery of an almost
identical, but less well preserved, version of the figure from Pozzuoli,
demonstrates instead that this is actually an ideal image, probably
representing a Greek goddess. The body type and drapery are, though, not
entirely specific. The arms of the Syon House statue have been restored,
therefore the attributes that the woman holds are not part of the original
conception: the arms of the Pozzuoli version are missing but were originally
made separately and attached. There are, therefore, no immediately
recognisable or distinctive attributes that would identify one Olympian
goddess from another. There are several Roman versions of late fifth
century-style statues that have been felt to represent different Greek
goddesses, for instance Hera (Roman Juno) and Demeter (Roman Ceres).
Nonetheless, on the Syon House statue, the falling away of the drapery from
the shoulder would seem an entirely provocative gesture, appropriate for a
representation of Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of sexual love.
The recognition that the head definitely belongs to the body and is not, as had
previously been suspected, a random match made at some stage during its
collection history, has been a major milestone. It restores the possibility of
seeing the piece as a coherent ancient work and a very rare survival. Only
one other example of this statue type survives with its original head, the
example from Pozzuoli. Other headless examples survive, demonstrating the
popularity of this type of figure amongst Roman patrons. To the best of our
knowledge, no other example exists in any British Collection.
Although it has not yet been determined exactly where the Syon House statue
was originally set up in antiquity, its original Roman context is still important.
Its modern history, from the time of its discovery to the present day is equally
fascinating. The well-researched and fully documented article produced for
the recent sale catalogue has much to say on this extended history, and is
added below (Appendix1.)
In Great Britain the trend for selling off ancient Roman statues collected
during the Grand Tour began in the early twentieth century. At this time many
of Britain’s country house owners were experiencing the devastating
economic effects of the First World War and required funds that were most
effectively sourced through selling art collections. A not inconsiderable
number of Britain’s most important Classical sculptures from private
collections, were sold off and dispersed, with some gracing Museums in the
United States rather than Britain’s National Museums. In more recent
decades, there have been several high profile sales of individual ancient
sculptural masterpieces, often the most famous statue in a particular
collection. A notable example was the so-called Newby Hall or ‘Jenkins’
Venus sold in 2002. Like the Syon House Aphrodite, the statue at Newby Hall
was part of a carefully planned interior, placed in a specially designed niche
and intended to be viewed as part of a whole complex, rather than as an
individual statue. Its significance, and the effect of its loss has incidentally
prompted the owner of Newby Hall to commission an exact marble replica to
fill its original spot.
The Syon House Aphrodite, which gives its name to the Syon/Pozzuoli type,
then speaks to us today from several different historic and artistic levels. It
works as a fine example of a Roman interpretation of the sculptural traditions
of the late fifth century BC. Few Roman statues of deities exist that have not
undergone major transformations after their discovery and been restored to
appeal to their owners from the Renaissance up to the nineteenth century.
Then, and perhaps more importantly, it marks the journey made by ancient
statues from their discovery in Italy during the Renaissance, to being sold to
wealthy families in Rome, who had them re-shaped and modelled to suit their
own, sometimes, ostentatious tastes. The statues such as, and including this
example, illustrate the re-discovery of the ancient Classical world by British
gentlemen during their Grand Tour. Their British connection lies in how the
statues were displayed in often newly designed grand halls, to be shown off,
almost as trophies in honour of the owner’s taste and status. Here the statue
in question was raised up on a pedestal specially designed by Robert Adam,
and was part of a symmetrical arrangement, of similarly sized statues. The
initial disappointment of not being able to use bronze statues, as proposed by
Adam, would surely have quickly changed to delight once the marble statues
were set up: they complement the architecture superbly. The figure was
intended to be viewed and admired as part of a whole complex rather than as
an individual piece. This type of display was extremely popular during the
later decades of the 18th century and its effect on British taste was undeniably
strong and fed the inspiration of architects and sculptors alike. T
The varied and multi-disciplined scholarship encompassing the Syon House
Aphrodite bears witness to its great significance as an emblem of Classical art
in Great Britain. Only recently has clever scholarship and research
uncovered the true nature of the statue. The fact that the head has been
proven to belong to the body, and not be a later restoration, has provided the
statue with its own identity. The statue is now an integral part of the study of
Roman sculptural traditions. The statue need no longer be viewed as one
element in an architectural complex in an eighteenth century British house,
but viewed and studied individually in the public domain for future scholars
and public to analyse, admire and contemplate.
Appendix 1. Information collated for the Sotheby’s sale catalogue.
“From Classical Greece to Imperial Rome
The present statue was carved in the early decades of the Roman Imperial era and stands as
one of the most faithful and complete replicas of a now lost figure of Aphrodite, which was
executed in Greece in the second half of the 5th century B.C., at the height of the Classical
period of Greek art. Only one other replica, found twelve years ago in Pozzuoli near Naples,
has come to light with its original head (Valéri and Zevi, op. cit., 2005, cat. no. IV.5, pp. 8598). It is virtually the twin sister of the present statue. Equally close to the Greek original is a
headless statue in the Munich Glyptothek (L.E. Baumer, “Vorbilder und Vorlagen,” in Acta
Bernensia, vol. 10, Bern, 1997, no. G 3/2, p. 95, pl. 5,2). Several other figures belonging to
the same type (called the “Syon-Munich type” in German art-historical nomenclature), either
headless or fitted with alien or modern heads, can be found in public collections (e.g.
Copenhagen, Louvre, Formia, and Epidauros). The overwhelming majority of these figures
show slight variations and departures from the Greek original, both in their pose and
arrangement of the drapery. One example was even carved as a portrait statue of a JulioClaudian princess in the guise of Aphrodite (A. Giuliano, Catalogo dei ritratti romani del
Museo Profano Lateranense, Rome, 1957, pp. 29f., cat. no. 32, pl. 20. 21; Until very recently, the head of the Syon Aphrodite was
considered to be a later addition. The discovery of the Pozzuoli example proves beyond
doubt that the head of the Syon statue is original to the body.
The Cesi Collection
The statue is first recorded with certainty in the late 16th Century, as it stood in the garden of
the (no longer extant) Palazzo Cesi in Rome, on the northern slope of the Janiculum near the
Basilica of Saint Peter. An engraving published by Cavalleriis in 1585 identifies it as
“Agrippina, Marci Agrippae filia, ibidem” (“Agrippina, daughter of Marcus Agrippa, in the same
place” [i.e., as the statues illustrated previously, “in the Cesi garden”) and demonstrates a
clear attempt at rendering the highly specific coiffure of the Syon statue. Aphrodite is depicted
without her current restored arms, which are 18th-century additions. The figure engraved in
Cavalleriis has been variously identified with a torso now in Copenhagen (Hülsen, op. cit.,
1917, p. 123), and with a statue fitted with an alien portrait head of Lucilla in the Capitoline
Museum (H.S. Jones, ed., A Catalogue of the Ancient Sculptures Preserved in the Municipal
Collections of Rome. The Sculptures of the Museo Capitolino, Oxford, 1912, p. 283). These
identifications can no longer be accepted.
The Cesi collection was assembled by two brothers, Cardinals Paolo Emilo Cesi (1481-1537)
and Federico Cesi (1500-1565). Born into the provincial Umbrian elite, they were eager to
compete with the Roman nobility for status and evidence of learning and taste. Their open-air
museum became a major center of attraction for art lovers in general and Dutch artists in
particular, such as Martin van Heemsckerck, who drew several views of the garden, including
many of its antiquities, and Henrick van Cleef III, who painted a detailed panoramic view of
the Palazzo Cesi and its garden (see M. van der Meulen, “Cardinal Cesi's Antique Sculpture
Garden: Notes on a Painting by Henrick van Cleef III,” Burlington Magazine, vol. 116, January
1974, fig. 27, and J.D. Hunt, Garden and Grove: The Italian Renaissance Garden, London,
1986, fig. 15).
Where in Rome the statue was found and when the Cesi acquired remain unknown. Textual
evidence appears to point to a date of acquisition no more precise than sometime in the first
half of the 16th century. The statue is most probably the same one Ulisse Aldro(v) saw on a
visit to the Cesi gardens circa 1550, the description of which he published about six years
later: “Entrando in questo giardino si trova à man dritta presso al muro una Agrippina intiera
in piè vestita à l’antica e posta sopra una antica base. E bellissima statua, ma non ha braccia.
Fu questa Agrippina figliuola di M. Agrippa, e di Iulia figlia d’Augusto perche furono molte
Agrippine.” (“As one enters this garden, to the right against the wall there is a complete
standing [figure of] Agrippina set on an ancient pedestal. It is a very beautiful statue, but it
does not have arms. [One should note that] this Agrippina was the daughter of Marcus
Agrippa and Julia, the daughter of Augustus, because there were many Agrippinas”
(Aldroandi, op. cit, 1526, p. 124).
Also unknown is the location of the statue immediately following the dispersal of the Cesi
collection, which started in earnest in 1621/1622, when Ludovico Ludovisi (Pope Gregory XV
from 1621 to 1623) acquired about 100 sculptures from the family. In 1720, several of the
Cesi antiquities were purchased by Pope Clement XI for the Capitoline Museum. Various
other marbles went into the Albani collection. The remainder was dispersed on the Roman art
market in the mid to late 18th Century (Hülsen, op. cit., 1917, p. 10, and G.B., Waywell, The
Lever and Hope Sculptures, Berlin, 1986, p. 25).
James and Robert Adam
After almost 200 years, during which the Syon Aphrodite must have either remained in the
Cesi Collection or sojourned in one or more of the great antiquities collections of late
Renaissance and Baroque Rome, the statue resurfaced in 1773. It can be tentatively
identified with a statue offered in the sale of the collection/inventory of British architects and
dealers Robert and James Adam. The Christie’s auction of 25-27 February and 1-2 March
1773 was organized to help fund the brothers’ project to build the Adelphi Buildings, a row of
terrace houses in neoclassical style in central London. James “was the more committed
collector and dealer, buying in Italy most of the sculptures listed in the sale catalogue of 1773”
(I. Bignamini and C. Hornsby, Digging and Dealing in Eighteenth-Century Rome, New Haven
and London, 2010, p. 225, adding that he purchased antiquities from the collections of
Cardinal Passionei, and some that had once been in the Massimi, Furietti, and Barberini
The Syon Aphrodite most likely coincides with lot 51 in the fourth-day session of the 1773
sale: “The Empress Livia, in the character of a Juno in flowing robes, of Grecian workmanship
remarkably fine, from the Pope's collection in the Vatican, Ft 6 In 8.5" [204.47 cm]" (A.Th.
Bolton, The Architecture of Robert & James Adam (1758-1794), London, 1922, p. 328). The
papal provenance given in the catalogue is tantalizing. Some Cesi antiquities did enter the
Vatican collections (C. Pietrangeli, “Le antichità Cesi dei Musei Vaticani e S. Lorenzo in
piscibus,” in Scritti in memoria di G. Marchetti Longhi, vol. I, Rome, 1990, pp. 23-35), but
rarely would Popes de-accession their antiquities– unless, of course, they were forced to do
so by the French. The reference is possibly to the Ludovisi Collection, since one of their
family members did reign as Pope, if ever so briefly. An overlifesize statue of Livia is
mentioned in a 1633 inventory of the Ludovisi collection, twelve years after the acquisition of
the Cesi marbles (B. Palma, Museo Nazionale Romano. Le sculture, vol. I,4: I Marmi
Ludovisi: Storia della Collezione, Rome, 1983, p. 77, no. 192). it does not appear in later
inventories, or at least not under this designation.
The Duke of Northumberland probably purchased “Livia” in the sale– most likely, as we will
see why, on the advice of the Adam Brothers– together with at least one other statue, lot
51 in the fifth-day session: “The Consul Scipio, with his consular robes, and a volume or roll in
his hand, in the action of speaking in the Senate House, of Grecian Workmanship, and
exquisitely fine, Ft 7 In 9" [236 cm.].
The Great Hall at Syon House
A month or two after Christie’s Adam Brothers sale, in the Spring of 1773, four statues, two
male and two female, including Aphrodite (a.k.a. Livia) and Scipio, were set on tall pedestals
in the Robert Adam-designed Great Hall at Syon House, the Duke of Northumberland’s house
in Middlesex (E. Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam, London, 2001, p. 341, note 10; Archives
of Alnwick Castle, Sy.U/I/2/W1-71). Three-quarters of a century later, they were still described
by an antiquarian as “Scipio Africanus, Livia, Cicero, and a priestess” (George Aungier, The
history and antiquities of Syon Monastery, the parish of Isleworth, London, 1840, page 117.).
The same author adds that they were “dug out of Herculaneum and Pompeii,” most likely an
assumption on his or the owner’s part, based on the much publicized discoveries around
Mount Vesuvius at the time.
Construction of the Great Hall along Robert Adam’s plans had started in 1760/61. In 1768 the
four pedestals were still not fitted with the four casts of ancient "consular statues," which the
Duke had initially envisaged for his neo-classical interior. James Adam, who was acting as
the Duke’s dealer and agent in Italy, realized and conveyed to him that they were simply too
expensive to manufacture (E. Harris, op. cit., 2001, p. 66 and 341, note 13). The use of the
four ancient marbles statues, therefore, was an afterthought within the design of the Great
Hall. They were selected for their size (slightly more than 2m each) and in at least two cases,
for their subject ("consular statues" wearing togas), which corresponded to the Duke’s initial
wishes. Within this group of latecomers, the two female statues were convenient additions,
meant to supplement and enhance their male counterparts standing opposite them across the
A Scholarly Oversight
In the 19th century, at a time when European scholars were actively assessing Britain’s
riches in ancient sculpture, the Comte de Clarac did not include engravings of the four Syon
statues in his Musée de Sculpture. Adolf Michaelis, the pioneering re-discoverer of Britain’s
antiquarian collecting past and author of Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, published in
English in 1889, also never saw or even referred to the Syon statues. The fact that they were
missing from Clarac’s and Michaelis’ nearly exhaustive corpora was both a sign of, and
further cause for their neglect.
In 1923, Frederik Poulsen meticulously recorded three of the ancient statues at Syon, but
since the scope of his work only covered portraits, he paid little attention to the figure of
Aphrodite: "The so-called Livia has a modern head, copied from that of the Agrippina the
Elder in the Capitoline Museum, and placed on an antique statue" (Poulsen, op. cit., 1923, pp.
16-17). His figure 13, a small grainy photograph in which the head is hard to see, is the only
one ever to be published by scholars. Unlike the three other ancient statues at Syon, which
were well illustrated by Poulsen, Aphrodite was not reproduced as a line drawing by Salomon
Reinach in his Répertoire de la sculpture grecque et romaine, vol. V, 1924, p. 534, which may
have further contributed to her falling into relative oblivion.
From then on, it was simply assumed that the head was a cleverly grafted replacement
carried out by a skilful eighteenth-century restorer. This was probably due in part to the
presence of a fine fracture beneath the neckline, and also to the fact that no scholar had
inspected the head in person following Poulsen’s pronouncement. Even the archaeologists
who so thoroughly published the Pozzuoli Aphrodite still assumed that the head was new
(Valéri and Zevi, op. cit., 2005, p. 87, note 278). The only published reference to the head
being ancient and never broken, a discovery apparently first made by Sascha Kansteiner
after examining the statue in person, appears in a footnote to an article published in a
Romanian journal in 2013 (Kansteiner, op. cit., 2013).
We are grateful to Adriano Aymonino, of the University of Buckingham, for sharing with us the
important contribution he made to the history of the decoration of the Great Hall at Syon
House on pp. 99-101 of his doctoral dissertation, entitled Aristocratic splendour: Hugh
Smithson Percy (1712-1786) and Elizabeth Seymour Percy (1716-1776), 1st Duke and
Duchess of Northumberland. A case study in patronage, collecting and society in eighteenthcentury Britain (to be published by Yale University Press)”.