The artistic legacy of the Romans survives and surrounds us in many forms today - in architecture, furniture and design. The Neo-Classical style in Europe that replaced the Rococo was stimulated by discoveries in Italy and Greece made around the late 17th to the early 19th Centuries, notably those at Pompeii and Herculaneum, from which artists, architects, potters and furniture makers drew much inspiration.
This magnificent table leg dating to the Imperial Period is a perfect example of how Roman taste in art and architecture was in turn fashioned by the heritage of the Ancient Greeks who, themselves, were inspired by their eastern rivals the ancient Persians. From the early Republican Period (4th Century B.C.) throughout the following centuries to the later Empire, the Romans drew inspiration from the art and culture of Hellenistic and Classical Greece. Contact with the Greek world increased as a result of military expansion and conquest, as Rome became a Mediterranean power with a far-reaching Empire.
The table leg here shows the bust of a lion-griffin emerging from an acanthus leaf. The acanthus leaf first appears as a motif in ancient Greece; growing across Greece and the Greek islands in abundance, it was admired for the beauty of its leaves; it became a popular motif as it offered abundant decorative variety. It is still used today as a motif in ornamental friezes, patterns and architectural design. The Griffin is another well-known Greek motif, usually represented as a lion with the head and wings of an eagle. This mythical or fantastic beast shows the influence of Eastern art - the horned lion-griffin is well known in ancient Persia, Babylonia and Assyria.
The piece of furniture of which this leg was once an element was an elegant and impressive piece, designed to reflect the wealth, standing and taste of its owner. The houses of rich and powerful Romans were decorated to reflect their position in public life and although spacious, were not filled with much furniture. The preference was to add prestige to one's house with the use of wall-paintings and floor mosaics, and only restrained use of expertly crafted furniture. This leg probably formed part of a sideboard designed to exhibit fine tableware. For a similar leg, cf. Jan Stubbe Ostergaard, Catalogue: Imperial Rome, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, 1996, no. 107, p. 204; for a parallel piece from Pompeii, cf. E. Pernice, Die hellenistische Kunst in Pompeji V (1932) 2, fig. 1.