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A ROMAN LIMESTONE RELIEF
CIRCA 3RD CENTURY A.D.
Sculpted in high relief with an offering scene to a pantheistic Abraxas within an aedicula, the triangular pediment with a shell-form niche framing the god's head, acanthus and palmettes for the acroteria, the syncretistic anguipede deity depicted with a wolf head crowned with sheaves of wheat, a human body clad in an animal skin, a marine-like fringe at the hips and snake legs, the head in profile to the right, the ears erect, the mouth open revealing fangs, holding a key in his raised right hand, poppies, a caduceus and sheaves of wheat in his extended left, the snake-heads of his legs slithering toward his attributes, a table to the left with a ram head, a diminutive bearded man kneeling at the right, presenting a loaf of bread on an offering table, its support with a lion head and a feline paw
35¼ in. (89.5 cm.) high
Provenance
Private Collection, South Germany, 1980s.
Anonymous sale; Gorny & Mosch, Munich, 22 June 2005, lot 99.

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G. Max Bernheimer
G. Max Bernheimer

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Lot Essay

The syncretistic deity depicted on this cult relief displays the properties and attributes of several gods of the Graeco-Roman and Egyptian pantheon. The anguipede form closely recalls the cosmic warrior god Abraxas, known mostly from late Roman "magic gems," and most often seen with a cock's head or a lion head and armed with a sword and shield. See, for example, no. 181ff. in Michel, Die Magischen Gemmen in Britischen Museum.
The caduceus, the sheaves of wheat, and the ram head can be interpreted as representing Mercury, as the god of commerce. The poppies display a medicinal element. The wolf head and fringing skirt may relate to the ketos or sea monster. See, for example, the ketoi with wolf heads on the marble series of Jonah being swallowed and cast out, now in Cleveland, nos. 365-366, p. 409 in Weitzman, Age of Spirituality, Late Antique and Early Art, Third to Seventh Century.

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