Oscillum depicting a Dancing Maenad
Roman, circa first century AD
Width: 27.5 cm
Price: £125,000 plus any applicable taxes
In the first century, the most fashion-forward of Rome’s elite were incorporating finely- carved decorative marble disks into the extravagant sculptural programmes of their lavish villa gardens. These disks were suspended from the architraves or ceilings of colonnaded porticoes, where they would swing or turn in the wind, hence lending itself eventually to the English term ‘oscillate’, ‘to swing back and forth’.
Carved in fine low relief, this example depicts a dancing maenad, one of the female followers of the ancient Greek wine-god Dionysos. She is holding a tympanon (tambourine) in her left hand, and the folds of her diaphanous garment billow out behind her. During the sacred rites of the god, maenads would become frenzied through tumultuous music, dancing, and drinking, to the point where they were said to be possessed by the god himself. The presence of the dancing maenad was an homage to music, dancing, and the general merriment associated with wine, a sign that the home in which it hung was a place where such behaviour was celebrated. The reverse of the oscillum is carved with the face of a fearsome gorgon, intended to avert evil and offer protection to the owner.
Private Collection, early twentieth century, based on original
variegated green marble socle.
Private Collection, Estrablin, France, sold Sadde, Dijon, March 12th, 2018, no. 19. French art market. Sotheby’s, London, 4 December 2018, lot 49.
Light cleaning to remove grimy surface coating. Old repair to chin area of Medusa head on reverse.