TORSO OF DIONYSUS
This Roman torso, most probably carved in the 1st or 2nd century A.D., depicts the god Dionysus. The model for such Roman marble sculptures derived from now lost 5th and 6th century B.C. Greek originals, cast in bronze. As the Romans conquered the Greek lands piece by piece, they became increasingly aware of Greek art. Roman generals looted Greek cities of their artistic treasures and brought them back to Rome. Soon Roman collectors created a market for the replication of classical Greek artworks, with which they decorated their homes and gardens. During the Imperial Period of ancient Rome between the 1st and 2nd century A.D., all things Greek were particularly very much in vogue.
Like the Greeks, the Romans had many gods, that included a mixture of native Italic, Etruscan, and Greek deities. The twelve Olympian Gods of the Greeks all had Roman cognates. The Greek God Dionysus was also recognised in Roman culture as Bacchus. Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, wine, fertility, ritual madness, theatre and religious ecstacy. Depictions of him vary, ranging from an elderly bearded and clothed man, to a beardless, sensuous and androgynous youth, with this sculpture being an example of the latter. As an invoker of intoxication and eroticism, he was particularly popular as private garden and villa decoration.
This torso is the surviving portion of what will have been a full sculpture of the standing god. Carved in the round, it is now missing its head, arms, calves and phallus. The figure was originally depicted standing in contrapposto, with the figure’s entire body weight resting on the left leg, the right leg bent at the knee and the arms falling in opposite directions creating a natural-seeming twist in the torso. With this weight shift, the hips and shoulders appear tilted, suggesting relaxation and creating a sense of movement. The contrapposto stance was first used in sculpture in ancient Greece, the most famous example being perhaps Polykleitos’ Doryphoros (Spear Bearer), which is known only through the Roman marble replicas. Dionysus’ long curly hair – with which we can infer his identity – fall to his shoulders. In antiquity, the head of this sculpture would have most probably been complete with a full wreath of vines and berries in his luxurious curls and he would have been holding a characteristic attribute such as a thyrsus or oinochoe. There is an addition of marble to the left thigh of the figure, which is remnant of a support such as a tree trunk or pillar.
The god of wine has inspired art since antiquity and continues to inspire it today. A popular subject, he has been depicted by the greatest artists throughout time, ranging from Renaissance masters such as Michelangelo and Titian to influential post war artists such as Cy Twombly.
Particularly similar parallels from antiquity to this torso can be found in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum in New York and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. An example of a typical head of Dionysus can be found in the collection of Castle Howard in York.
 Z. Newby; Greek Myths in Roman Art and Culture, Imagery, Values and Identity in Italy, 50 BC-AD 250, Cambridge University Press, 2016. P.87.
Previously in the Private Collection of H. Röpp originally acquired in the 1930s
Subsequently in a Private Collection, Zeulenroda
Subsequently in a Private Collection, Schleiz
German Art Market, 2006
Private German Collection (accompanied by German Export License)