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Amazonomachy - The battle of Amazons

Tue, 14/10/2014 - 11:20 -- Laura
Brescia, Amazonomachy, Santa Giulia City Museum

The slab in white, medium-grained marble presents part of a battle among seven Amazons. Two of them are riding a horse and one is standing beside her steed; they are wearing a Phrygian cap, the Greek kiton pinned on the left shoulder leaving the right breast naked, and boots with flaps, called embades. The Amazons are fighting against six naked warriors, some wearing a helmet and one on the ground wearing a klamis.  
On the left hand side there is part of the arm of a figure, on the opposite side a foot and leg of another. The slab had been cut, probably in order to be reused for a different purpose.
This clash of bodies, even more evident with the succession of light and shade in the relief, is highly dramatic: an emphasis strengthened by the wavy folds of clothes, which - especially on the right hand side of the slab - cover the background. The layers of the battlefield are clearly marked by the varied and intertwining postures of Amazons, warriors and horses; but a pause in the continuity of the rhythm seems to emerge with the central pair of figures, the naked standing warrior that grabs with his left hand the hair of the kneeling woman in front of him, ready to strike a blow with his right hand. Such pause emphasizes the posture of these figures, who probably marked the middle axis of the slab.
The scene is delimited at the bottom by a smooth slat in relief that is used as a stage for the figures. Below it there is a cyma moulding decorated with leaves on relief and a set of flat indentations. On top, the frame is fragmented and presents only the so called egg-and-dart decoration.
The slab belongs to the front cover of a sarcophagus carved between the 2nd and 3rd century AD in the Greek region of Athens, the Attica. Starting with the reign of the emperor Hadrian (118-138 AD), and up to the second half of the 3rd century AD, some workshops in that region specialized in the creation of sarcophagi, mainly in Proconnesian marble, with mythological battles aimed to glorify the dead person, who was usually compared with the hero depicted in the scene.
In this case the sculpted scene shows Athenian heroes as protagonists, naked, and Amazons, female warriors of Oriental origins that ride horses and wear a particular cap and a tunic, which lays bare the right shoulder and breast. The complex relief probably refers to the mythical episode of the battle that took place at the foot of Athens acropolis, when the Amazons tried to free their queen Antiope, who had been kidnapped and married to Theseus with the help of other Athenian warriors. 
The theme of death and the heroic side of the battle recall the use of the sarcophagus and the virtues of the dead person.

The sarcophagi from Attica were exported all over the Mediterranean sea, shipped on the Adriatic sea, and reached Aquileia where they were distributed around northern Italy. In some cases they arrived only partially sculpted, to be completed later on in local workshops according to the needs of the clients. Considering the widespread appreciation for such art pieces, in Aquileia were founded some specialized workshops which had their own specific production style.
Both sarcophagi from Attica and Aquileia, for the type of marble used and the complexity of reliefs, were destined to people from high social ranks. For what concerns the few Attica samples found in Brescia (all discovered in the area of the monastery, unique examples in the whole Brescia province), it is possible to hypothesize that they belonged to illustrious families. The slab was discovered in October 1998 on the floor - dated to the Late Middle Ages - of the church of San Salvatore. With the relief side facing downwards, the slab was reused together with other fragments of a sarcophagus dating back to the Roman era.