This magnificent marble relief depicts the divine twins Castor and Pollux. The youths stand in mirror image, each wearing a pilos - a conical cap - and are nude but for a chlamys draped around their shoulders. Each hold the reins of his horses in one hand and a spear in the other. In the center is a flaming cylindrical altar decorated with garland and surrounded by a bull, a cock and a wild boar. Two stars and a crescent moon are present in the field above. The scene is bordered by contoured moldings on three sides.
The Greek Dioskouri, Castor and Polydeuces, were the twin sons of Zeus and Leda (the name is taken from the Greek Dios kouris, or “youth of Zeus”). The pair is best known for their role in several important mythological events. In one, they were sent to rescue their sister Helen after she was kidnapped by Theseus. The twins also hunted with Meleager and other heroes for the Calydonian Boar and joined Jason and the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece.
Only Polydeuces, was born immortal and this gift was not originally conferred onto Castor. The Dioskouri abducted the twins Phoebe and Hilaeria, the daughters of King Leucippus, whom they forced into marriage. The women were already promised to Idas and Lynceus, the nephews of Leucippus, who pursued the twins. The ensuing battle resulted in the deaths of the nephews but Castor was mortally wounded. Polydeuces appealed to Zeus who agreed to share immortality with Castor, so long as the two would alternate their days between Olympus and the Underworld.
While Sparta was the center of the Dioskouri’s cult, the two were readily adopted in Rome, where they were introduced as early as 500 B.C. Their names were later latinized to the Castores, Castor and Pollux. The twins were known to come to the aid of those in need and appeared to sailors in the guise of the electric weather phenomenon known as St. Elmo’s Fire. It is likely that this relief functioned as a votive to the twins, either to thank them for their assistance or to proactively ask for their help. The stars and moon above the twins point to their divine nature.
This relief is related to an example in Avignon at the Musée Calvet, which also preserves a mirrored scene of the twins and their horses (see no. 139 in A. Hermay, “Dioskouroi,” in LIMC, vol. III). Another example, in Mainz at the Zentralmuseeum, shows the twins holding spears and the reins of their horses (see no. 40 in F. Gury, “Dioskouroi/Castores,” in LIMC, vol. III). While both examples date to the 2nd century, the craftsmanship of the present relief far surpasses these provincial examples, suggesting it was created in a Neo-Attic workshop during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian.
Hubertus Wald was a German entrepreneur and philanthropist who operated the largest chain of cinemas in post-war Germany. His house in Hamburg was host to some of the most celebrated personalities of the late twentieth century including Andy Warhol, Omar Sharif, Romy Schneider and Gunter Sachs. Along with his wife, Renate, the Walds amassed an enviable collection of Impressionist and Modern masterpieces, prints, and ancient works of art.