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Roman Bronze dog with a Phallic head
New York | Sculpture
 
Date:  1st Century BC1st Century AD
Culture:  Roman
Category:  Sculpture
Medium:  Bronze
Dimension: L: 5.7 cm
Price: $5,000.00
Provenance: Ex- European private collection
Serial No: 3438

At first glance, the piece presents an unusual iconography - the combination of the dog’s figure with the phallic motif which makes contrast to the natural attitude of the animal. On the other hand, there is a good level of understanding the anatomy and a mastery combination of natural forms: the dog’s body coincides with the shaft while the head is substituted by the glans. The dog is comfortably resting on the ground in the curving attitude, with the head and the left hind leg slightly raised as if the animal is going to scratch the ear. However, as there is no dog’s head but the glans, the raised leg directed toward it may indicate humorous, if not obscene, context, probably derived from a local joke or a proverb. The bronze object, a small size cast, evidently not designed to be seen from the hollow bottom, is carefully made (one can observe there that the right hind leg, not really visible in the composition, is nevertheless modeled).

Roman erotic art is well documented through the finds from Pompeii which offer the variety of phallic objects and representations. There are series of them that represent phallus as an independent creature with the wings, legs, and sometimes the eyes. Executed as popular style, non-sophisticated graffiti or stone reliefs, or professionally made bronze objects (lamps or pendants with the bells, tintinabuli), these images clearly protect against evil spirits. Phallus is universally accepted symbol of potency and fertility, and there is no wonder to find images of phallic Priapus, a rustic god of fruitfulness, in painting, sculpture, and among the engraved gems. In the marble statuettes the figure of Venus is often supported by the figure of the phallic Priapus. Objects such as the bronze lamps were shaped as various human figures, both divine and profane, with enormous phalli (gladiators, dwarfs, Pan, Priapus); they could be suspended, thus they also assume the apotropaic function in the house. In addition, the terracotta cups included the sculptured phalli erected from the inside. Some, it is believed, served as drinking-bowls for birds or birdbaths. Some, probably, were designed to mock of the person drinking from the bowl, but this contemporary point of view could be different from the ancient implication.

The present piece was probably attached to a piece of furniture or vessel, a chest or the lid of a box.