The Via Appia - Athens Caryatids

This 'reconstruction' by Piranesi from the 1760s shows the four Caryatids found on the Via Appia in Rome - the figure to the left has only an original head on a different body, and the figure to the right is a Roman copy of the Erechtheion Caryatids now in the Villa Albani.

Two of the Caryatids, now in the Villa Albani, were discovered in the 1600s, and two more in the same vineyard in 1764. The area, between the second and third milestones of the Via Appia, has yielded a number of inscriptions allowing us to securely identify it as the Triopion built by Herodes Atticus.

The building was not a temple of Deus Rediculus but a house-tomb or Triopion: the whole estate was dedicated to the memory of Regilla, with curses carved into marble and dotted around to deter looters.

Seen above in 1748 in the engraving by Piranesi, and in a reconstruction to the left sketched by Thomas Hope (paper watermarked 1812).

These four central figures are the 2nd century AD Roman statues which Herodes Atticus had carved to honour Regilla. The general sentiment is that since she was a priestess of Demeter, and depicted thus at Olympia, the Via Appia monument must have some link to the cult of Demeter.

The drapery of this early Hellenistic replica of the smaller Herculaneum Woman from Delos is certainly reminiscent of the figures with heavy cloaks, as is the Larger one. The Herculaneum figures are some of the most copied ancient statue types, and the originals are believed to have represented Demeter and Persephone.

The statues now in the Villa Albani are only available in poor quality black and white photographs, so I thought it would be more interesting to show these 18th century drawings of them. The figures are numbered according to the Piranesi reconstruction, which had nothing to do with their ancient positions.

Figure 1 - Only the head from this statue belongs to the set of Caryatids from the Via Appia - the body is ancient, but from another statue. What makes the head intersting is that it is signed by Criton and Nicolaus of Athens. The head was found in 1764 on land owned by the Strozzi, but remained in Rome and is now in the Villa Albani.

A Mithras slaying a bull from the Baths of Mithras and a cippus from a Mithraeum were found in Ostia, both bearing the signature of Kriton of Athens, and of a similar date to the carved columns. A copy of the Kriton Mithras was in the Giustiniani collection (see here for more on the Mithras; b/w photo here).

A basin was dedicated by M. Umbilius Criton in the Mitreo della Planta Pedis at Ostia (source).

The name is unusual, so he may be related to the M. Umbilius Maximinus son of Marcus that was a patron of Ostia, and recorded in a AD 200 funerary inscription at the Serapeion, and who is recorded into the 3rd century (see p. 335 here and here)

If this is the same sculptor, close examination of the women has led me to believe that they were almost entirely recut and reworked, rather than just restored, in modern times, probably in the studio of Cavaceppi. A small scale replica in Germany by him lends credence to this theory, as do recently found drawings of the figures by an artist from within his circle (Private Collection, London; formerly owned by Kenneth Clark). The sketch book included studies of the Monte Porzio figures, at least one of which was in his studio at the time of his death.

Figure 4 - was found in the 1600s and is now in the Villa Albani.

Figure 5 - also found in the 1600s is also in the Villa Albani in Rome today.

The sixth figure in the Piranesi reconstruction is a Roman copy of the Erechtheion Caryatids, which is now also at the Villa Albani, where it was kept outdoors because it was dismissed as a modern copy, and is now in very poor condition.

The two new statues entered the collection of the Villa Negroni, which was sold at the end of the 1780s - Charles Townley bought one, Gustav III of Sweden also made an offer but an export license was denied for the second figure so it entered the Vatican collections.

Figures 2 and 3 were found in 1764: 2 is now in the Braccio Nuovo of the Vatican, and 3 was bought by Charles Townley and is now in the British Museum.

Townley's collection is well documented.

This view shows Charles Townley in his Sculpture Gallery by Johann Zoffany, 1782 (source)

He re-arranged his sculptures when he increased his collection as seen in this view of the Dining Room at Park Street, Westminster, by William Chambers, London, 1794-95 (source). The Caryatid is visible after the Venus in the middle of the right wall.

The sculptures were assumed to be wholly Roman creations, but in rescue excavations in Athens in the 19th century similar figures were found near the Metropolis church. The Athens figures date to the Hellenistic period, although whether these are the 'originals' or themselves copy earlier works is unknown.

This figure in Athens is replicated by Piranesi figure 4 in the Villa Albani.

The elaborate jewellery is unusual in Greek sculpture, and seen in later Eastern sculptures, such as at Palmyra.

What makes this sculpture interesting is that it is quite 'flat' - the Via Appia Caryatids seem to be carbed in the 'round' although this may be because they were 'helped' by 18th century restorers.

The back of the statue shows clearly that it was originally attached to a pillar. The head of Figure 1 in Rome also shows evidence that it was attached at the back, where the remains of the strut was signed.

This Athens figure is replicated by figure 5 in Rome.

This statue was fully carved, unlike the other Athens figure. This suggests that this figure would have been free-standing in place of a column, and the other figure in antis.

What's interesting about this Athens figure and figure 4 from Rome, is that their outlines are the same as the outline of the Caryatid on this 4th century BC red figure vase from Myra now in Istanbul. One has to be careful about drawing conclusions from this sort of secondary evidence, but we know that several other sets of Caryatids were created at that period (the Doric ones of Vitruvius and the Tralles-Cherchel set).

What's interesting is that the Athens figures were excavated close to the Little Metropolis, which has this unusal Doric metope frieze built into it. I know of only two similar friezes, both from the late Hellenistic period: one on Samos, and one from the Propylon at Eleusis. Because the Eleusis gateway had Caryatids, and Caryatids (of the Tralles-Cherchel type) decorated the Hadrianic gate of the City Eleusionion in the Agora ... the general assumption is that this frieze was brought over from the City Eleusinion in the Byzantine period. I would argue instead that the frieze came from the same structure as the Caryatids above. It's iconography is that of Eleusis, but the iconography and cult of Demeter were imitated by the cults of Isis in Athens - and Pausanias mentions a sanctuary of Serapis in the area. My guess is that these copied a variety of early Hellenistic figures, perhaps created for the Seleucids or Ptolemies (who favoured similar melon-hairstyles), and decorated a shrine of Isis within a Hellenistic Serapeum built by a later Ptolemy in Athens.


  1. Dorothy, thank you for a moment of nostalgia! From the ages of five to seventeen, I lived at Towneley Hall, where my father was curator for many years. I well remember as a child being fascinated by Zoffany's depiction of Charles Towneley seated contentedly in his library surrounded by his collection from the 'Grand Tour'. Although not relevant to your piece, he was particularly proud of his copy of the Discobolus of Myron, which he acquired after the painting was completed and which he had painted in later - it is quite clear when you look at the painting. As for the Towneley name, it seems to have been spelt both with and without the first 'e'; the Hall is 'with', but on Charles' bust by Nollekens and on a contemporary Wedgwood blue jasper silhouette it is also spelt without. If it hadn't been for Elgin, the Townley Marbles would have been the premier English collection!

  2. I've always found the 'e' or not to 'e' confusing ... he had an amazing collection, and it'a a pity too much of it is hidden away in a basement these days.


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