Mid-fourth century BC
Height 23 cm
Recovered by the Guardia di Finanza
The four anthropomorphic handles are intact; a couple are slightly encrusted. They are in the form of nude male figures, arched in the back to form a slightly pronounced curve. The hands likely rested on a small plate now lost, while the feet, united, could have rested directly on the piece that served as a handle or a small base, also lost. None of the limbs show any sign of being driven into by nails. The figures are modeled in a naturalistic way. The face of each has a short forehead, large, wide-opened eyes, and thick closed lips. The hair is closely cropped, is incised, and resembles a helmet. The arms are stretched above, alongside the neck, and the hands are outstretched. A detailed examination of the figures’ form, useful for chronological placement, draws attention to a soft rendering of the thin bodies, especially when viewed in profile, and to the thin closed legs; the chest has neither a thick nor excessively trunco-conical shape, but does, however, present softly-shaped muscles, and both the abdomen and the groin line are quite pronounced.
The morphology of these pieces, and the fact that they consist of four identically-made elements, suggests that they be identified as vertical handles of bronze vases, such as oinochoai and hydriai, well attested, in different variations, in southern Italy and in Etruscan sites. The soft plasticity that distinguishes the corporal rendering would distance the four handles from more ancient examples, grouping them instead to after the mid-fourth century BC. In order to determine the chronological placement of these artisanal products, one cannot disregard the comparison with the contemporary stylistic tendencies in sculpture.
The possibility of identifying these objects as a variation of the lid handles, destined for the Praenestine cistae, of the “acrobat type,” is less probable. The “acrobat type” is characterized by a figure folded in a “bridge” shape, unlike our examples. In all of the known Praenestine attestations, the position of the arms and hands – which are stretched out in our handles – are completely folded backwards, permitting a strong bodily arch, bent to almost below the back, in an unnatural movement. This iconography, probably derived from models of the Orientalizing period, would suggest the date of the four handles to the mid-fourth century BC.