LOW RELIEF SCULPTURES
Low (Bas) Relief on Roman Sarcophagus
This page highlights examples of Classical Roman-themed low-high-relief sculptures produced by the A Touch of Rome studio in Ottawa, Canada. Low relief sculptures are also known as "Bas" reliefs.
Featured are twelve pieces:Minerva • Flora (two pieces) • Athena • Juno • Bacchantes (3 pieces) • Praetorian Guards • Roma • St. Andre of Montreal (2 pieces)
ROMAN GODDESS MINERVA
Before final polish and detailing
Perhaps the most beloved of the Roman gods, Minerva could perhaps best be described as a cross between the Greek Athena and the Etruscan Menvra.
Known as the goddess of Wisdom , the Arts, War, Science, and originally of handicrafts, Minerva was a very important god. In fact, the Romans gave her so much importance that she was part of the great trio of gods composed of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva who together formed the Capitoline Triad.
Every year, starting on March 19th, five days after the Ides of March, Romans celebrated the festival of Quinquatrus (Greater) dedicated to Minerva.
The festival was celebrated for five days (March 19 - 23), and it was an important event for artists, weavers, spinners and especially for students who had a holiday and their teachers who received a stipend called the "Minerval" which they received only once a year.
Banquets were held, processions to her temple coursed through the city of Rome, and sacrifices were made, usually at the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. There was actually another form of Quinquatrus (minor) that was held in June.
It is not entirely correct that the Romans borrowed all their gods and mythology directly from the Greeks. Rather, Etruscan beliefs and culture affected the Roman conceptualization of their gods.
For example, the Roman goddess Minerva was not just another name for the Greek Athena; instead, the Etruscan Menvra was blended with Athena to form the Roman Minerva. At first, Minerva was more closely associated with arts, crafts, poetry and medicine; however, as time went on she was also more closely associated with war.
This relief, which measures 5.5 x 3.75 inches (14.5 x 9.5 cm), is hand carved and shows the goddess Minerva with helmet, a representation of her properties of good war strategy and victory associated with the goddess. Roman General Pompey, for example, was devoted to Minerva and built a temple in her honour as her wisdom and strategy in war was considered so great that she even rivalled Mars, the actual Roman god of War.
ROMAN GODDESS FLORA
Two more representations of the goddess Flora - but in a low-relief style, much flatter in perspective.
The first Flora you see has a decidedly Victorian Age stylization and a theme of Roses and leaves in her hair. The second Flora, of a more Classical stylization, displays a vine and leaf theme to her hair. The first also displays jewelery while the second is wearing a ribbon in her hair that drapes down the back of her neck and falls forward onto her shoulder.
Flora with roses in her hair and a pearl necklace and earrings
Flora with vines in her hair & a ribbon coming down her neck
Ah, beautiful Flora - Roman goddess of flowers and of the Spring. These are my own creations and interpretations after having looked at numerous cameos and reliefs of Flora. I enjoyed carving flowers and vines so much that I got carried away ... which resulted in these lovely and flowery interpretations of the goddess. These two low reliefs of Flora measure 7 x 6 inches and 6 x 5 inches respectively.
GREEK GODDESS ATHENA
This bas relief is of the Greek goddess Athena, also known as Athene, and she was primarily associated with the City of Athens, where her temple, the Parthenon, was located in the Acropolis section of that city. She was associated with Wisdom and rational thought, arts and crafts (spinning, weaving), war, courage, law and justice, mathematics, to name some of her aspects.
She was a very important member of the Greek Pantheon and was the daughter of Zeus. Every year the City of Athens celebrated a festival, Panathenaea, devoted to their goddess Athena.
Her most famous symbol was the (wise) Owl. The Roman Minerva is closely associated with Athena and shares much of the same mythology and characteristics.
This relief shows Athena in helmet and armour. The helmet is very elegant with detailed horse heads along the forehead, a leopard along the top, and a Roman eagle. The armour is formed of half-circle plates. The piece measures 8 x 5.5 inches (20 x 14 cm) and is hand carved.
ROMAN GODDESS JUNO
Juno with jewelled Tiara and hair net
The goddess Juno, also known to Romans as Juno Regina ("Queen") was the wife of Jupiter and thus was a member of the all-important and all-divine Capitoline Triad composed of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. A rather complex god, Juno was associated with many things: marriage; fertility and childbirth; wealth; and protectress of the community.
Juno is associated with the Greek goddess Hera and was referred to in several ways: Juno Curitis, Juno Moneta, Juno Regina, and Juno Caprotina - each name refers to a different aspect of her powers and characteristics. Different cities in Italy would sometimes emphasize a certain aspect of the goddess. Juno was usually depicted as if prepared for war; however, for my sculptural interpretation, I chose a more relaxed and pleasing countenance.
Three Bacchantes Dancing
Side View showing Relief depth
Closesup of Bacchante playing Drum
Measures 5.5 x 3.75 inches (14 x 9.5 cm)
These three reliefs come from a long tradition. Around 400 BC/BCE, a Greek artist, Callamachus, created the original and then it was copied many times for centuries, appearing in frescoes, mosaics, friezes, reliefs, and pottery. My reliefs are based on the Roman copy of Callamachus' original.
But what is a "Bacchante"?
The Roman god Bacchus was closely associated with the Greek god Dionysis, and both gods had followers called Bacchantes (Romans) or Maenads (Greeks).
These mythological women followers would dance and drink themselves into a frenzy, often carrying a Thrysus in one hand - a long stick covered in vine leaves and topped with a large pine cone. It was said the Bacchantes would sometimes tear animals to pieces in their frenzy.
In two of the three Bacchante reliefs pictured above, the women are carrying a Thrysus, whilst the third is carrying a drum in her left hand, which more resembles a Tambourine. All of these ladies are wearing thin, long robes. One of them is carrying an animal in one hand while walking in a stupor.
Collecively, these three Bacchantes are performing "Dance of the Maenads" based on a Roman copy of a Greek original.
Side view showing depth
Artist holding relief to show scale
Measures 5.5 x 3.5 inches (14 x 9 cm)
This relief depicts three Praetorian Guards that formed one of the most powerful military units in the Roman Empire. These guards were originally divided into separate military units (Cohorts) whoses purpose was to defend Roman Praetors (Generals and Magistrates).
Under the first Roman Emperor Augustus, however, all the cohorts were united into a single entity whose purpose was to defend the Emperor. The Praetorian Guard also acted as a Police force in Rome and other cities throughout the Roman Empire.
Many times, the Praetorian guards involved themselves in the political process of Imperial Rome and in so doing affected the selection and removal of Emperors, sometimes resorting to murder. A classic example is the assassination of Emperor Caligula at the hands of Cassius Chaerea, tribune of the Praetorian Guard. This tribune, along with Cornelius Sabinus and several other members of the Praetorian guard, then chose Caligula's uncle, Claudius, as the next Emperor.
Perhaps the most infamous Praetorian Guard was the dictator Sejanus, who almost succeeded in becoming Emperor himself during the reign of Augustus' stepson Tiberius. I strongly recommend the excellent BBC drama, “I, Claudius”, made in the early 1970s. The series follows the emperor Claudius’ unexpected rise to power, surviving Sejanus, Emperor Augustus' murderous wife Livia, the deparaved Emperor Tiberius, and the malevolent and insane Emperor Caligula (played by John Hurt).
This relief is my interpretation of an ancient Roman carved relief depicting several Praetorian Guards. It measures approximately 5 x 4 inches (13 x 10 cm) and is hand carved.
ROMAN GODDESS ROMA
Roma - Etruscan style
This relief, an original piece, is of the goddess Roma. She is wearing a magnificent helmet, her hair in braids. The pieces uses different shades of veneer to create a piece that is quite unique from all the others. Her countenance is definitely severe and this is most assuredly someone you probably do not want to tangle with.
In ancient times, it was not uncommon for cities to have a "city god" that watched over them. Roma was thus the goddess of the City of Rome. Her origins were probably as a derivation of the goddess Minerva; thus, you could think of Roma as being a Minerva "clone."
As time went on, Roma became more differentiated and was worshipped separately. Just as in the relief above, Roma was typically shown wearing a helmet.
I gave the relief a rather Etruscan look. The Etruscans formed a civilization that pre-dated the Roman Republic and Empire in Italy. The Romans were heavily influenced by the Etruscans and this influence also affected the evolution of the Roman Pantheon of gods.
SAINT ANDRE OF MONTREAL
Saint Andre of Montreal, also known simply as Brother Andre, was named Andre Bessette (August 1845 - January 1937). He is credited with performing many miracles through the power of St. Jospeh. Furthermore, he is a notable religious figure among French Canadians, and was officially canonized in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI.
At the top of Mount Royal, a very large hill in the centre of the island of Montreal, a cathedral was built in honour of Brother Andre and pilgrims still go there seeking miracles. He was very beloved by the poor and the infirm, with whom he spent a great amount of time helping and praying - truly a kind and saintly man.
These two reliefs show Saint Andre in his 60s and then in his 80s.