Nice little feature, but lacking a photo (the one accompanying this post is not the one mentioned in the article):
Today, the Keith and Zara Joseph Collection goes on public display for the first time in the Potter Museum’s classic and archaeology gallery as part of an exhibition called Devotion and Ritual.
Before the exhibition’s opening its curator, Andrew Jamieson, showed some of the works that were, at that point, still stacked away in storage. He donned white gloves, opened the lid of an ordinary-looking box and from it gently removed a bronze statuette of Harpocrates from Alexandria, dated from around the 1st century BC.
“For me this is magnificent,” says Jamieson, “a wonderful example of a Roman bronze miniature statuette. It all comes together in a powerful way to make this a real standout example of Roman culture.
“It portrays all the hallmarks of Roman civilisation.”
Harpocrates was the Greek and Roman god of silence and secrecy but he originated with the Egyptians. After the Greeks conquered Egypt under Alexander the Great, the Greeks merged the Egyptian sun god Horus into their own god, who became known as Harpocrates.
Statuettes of Harpocrates were in demand throughout the Roman Empire when mystery cults and oriental religions became increasingly popular. Because of this popularity, images of Harpocrates were manufactured and mass produced. They were made either from inexpensive mould-made terracotta, suitable for house shrines, or from bronze, becoming in-demand cabinet pieces for wealthy connoisseurs.
“Unlike terracotta, works in bronze were considered luxury arts and they would have been treasured by their wealthy owners,” says Jamieson. “The small bronze statuette of Harpocrates was probably intended for personal use. Very high prices were paid for good specimens, especially when they were the work of well-known craftsmen. The fact precious objects were hoarded by the Roman elite accounts for their survival, in something like their original condition.”
According to Jamieson, in Egyptian representations of Harpocrates the god is often presented as a naked boy with his finger on or near his mouth, which indicates childhood. But the Greeks and Romans misunderstood this gesture and made Harpocrates the god of silence and secrecy.
Jamieson points out that Harpocrates is depicted as the child of the Egyptian gods Isis and Horus. Harpocrates is wearing a crown: the crown of the unification of upper and lower Egypt. In his left hand is a cornucopia, a symbol of abundance and plenty. His right hand is raised, with the finger pointing towards his cheek or lips.
“During the classical period and into ancient Rome, the deity of Harpocrates enjoyed a resurgence of interest, along with the cult of Isis,” says Jamieson. “So this is a really wonderful work in that we can learn so much about that time from the one figure.”