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: Oceanus


Anthony M. Clark



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts

A Roman bronze boss four and one-eighth inches wide, this sculptural relief was presumably applied to a piece of private or religious furniture and represents Oceanus, the god of the river which the ancients believed surrounded the earth. It was made in the Roman empire in the first or second century after the birth of Christ but in the tradition of Greek craftsmanship.

The frontal, bearded head with eyes of silver inlay is placed against a formalized background composed of the scales of the god's body and enclosed within a modeled rim. There are several small inlays of silver and copper on the god's cheeks, nose and forehead. Six sea creatures are shown sporting in his hair and beard: above, two rampant dolphins act as a crown; two fish peer from the locks of his hair; two more dive out of his beard.

The naturalism and gaiety of this bronze are typical of the ancient art and religion. Excellent craftsmanship, the imaginative use of naturalism and the techniques of sculpture explain why small ancient bronzed like this have inspired sculptors from the Italian Renaissance to our own day.

Referenced Work of Art
  1. Unknown Sculptor, Graeco-Roman. Oceanus, 1st or 2nd century A. D. Bronze, 4 1/8”. The Lillian Z. Turnblad Memorial Fund, 1961, 61.58.
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Source: Anthony M. Clark, "Oceanus," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 51, no. 1 (March, 1962): 12-13.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009