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Porphyry support for a water basin

2nd century A.D.
H. 30 in. (76.2 cm) width 58 1/4 in. (148 cm) Weight approx. 900 lbs
Stone Sculpture
Credit Line:
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1992
Accession Number:
  • Description

    In antiquity, porphyry was highly regarded as a royal stone, because its color was associated with the regal and, in Roman times, imperial use of purple to symbolize rank and authority. In addition, this very hard stone is found only in the eastern deserts of Egypt, making its extraction and transport extremely difficult and costly. Its use in Roman sculpture and architecture was therefore limited. This massive piece is one of a pair of supports that originally carried a deep oblong water basin, probably located in a major imperial bath complex. It exemplifies the opulence of Roman imperial sculpture at its height and is the most sumptuous ancient porphyry carving in an American collection.

  • Provenance

    [With Stefano Bardini, Florence]; between 1893-1905, acquired by William Waldorf Astor in Italy; until 1983, collection of William Waldorf Astor, later First Vicount Astor of Hever Castle and his descendants; July 1983, purchased by Robin Symes through Sotheby’s, London; [from 1983, with Robin Symes, London]; purchased by Mrs. Barbara Johnson from Robin Symes; until 1992, collection of Mrs. Barbara Johnson, Princeton, New Jersey; acquired in December 1992, purchased through Sotheby's, New York.

  • References

    Strong, Donald. 1965. "Some Unknown Classical Sculpture: The First Published Account of the Sculpture in WIlliam Waldorf Astor's Italian Gardens at Hever Castle." The Connoisseur, April: p. 221.

    Astor, Gavin Baron. 1969. Statuary and Sculpture at Hever. Ipswich: W.S. Cowell, no. 94, p. 11.

    Sotheby's, New York. 1992. Antiquities Auction. December 17 1992, New York. New York, lot 152.

    Mertens, Joan and Carlos A. Picón. 1993. "Acquisitions in Focus I: Greek and Roman Antiquities at the Metropolitan Museum." Apollo, 138: pp. 40-44, fig. 5.

    Picón, Carlos A. 1993. "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1992-1993." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 51(2): pp. 18-9.

    Capecchi, Gabrielle. 1993. The Historical Photographic Archive of Stefano Bardini: Greek, Etruscan and Roman Art, Vol. 1. Florence: Alberto Bruschi, no. 151.

    Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1993. Annual Report of the Trustees, 1992-1993, : p. 29.

    1994. Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide: Works of Art Selected by Philippe De Montebello. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    Ambrogi, Annarena. 1995. Vasche Di Eta Romana in Marmi Bianchi e Colorati, Studia Archaeologica, Vol. 79. Rome: L'Erma di Bretschneider, pp. 180, 261, fig. 2.

    Picón, Carlos A. 2007. Art of the Classical World in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Greece, Cyprus, Etruria, Rome New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 495, pp. 396, 496.

    Del Bufalo, Dario. 2012. Porphyry. Red Imperial Porphyry. Power and Religion. Turin: Umberto Allemandi & C, no. F11, p. 213, figs. F11a, F11b.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History