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20th-century bronze cast from ancient Roman marble original
Location: Louvre, Paris
This statue, very much admired since its discovery in 1512, is a personification the Roman
river Tiber. It decorated a temple dedicated to Isis and Sarapis, and was the pendant to a
similar statue depicting the Nile.
The work explores the river's link to Roman mythology, and its fertility - the river-god
is accompanied by Romulus and Remus, the city's legendary twin founders, while the reliefs
on its base illustrate their mythic exploits and the river's beneficial effects.
The Roman river Tiber appears here as a traditional river-god: a reclining male figure,
mature and bearded. The figure's attributes symbolize the benefits that he has bestowed
upon Rome: the oar in his left hand represents navigation, and the horn of abundance in
his right symbolizes the river's health-giving properties. Beside the sea-god stands a
she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, the city's mythical twin founders.
The base of the statue is decorated with reliefs: one features animals grazing, a second
depicts navigation, and the last is concerned with the myth of Aeneas.
The work's entire iconographical program is thus devoted to Rome, and to the riches
brought by its river.
A much-admired statue from antiquity
This imposing statue was discovered in Rome in 1512, on the site of the Iseum Campense, an
ancient temple dedicated to Isis and Sarapis. It no doubt decorated a fountain located
along the path leading to the temple, together with a similar statue depicting the Nile,
now in the Vatican. Both statues entered the prestigious Vatican collections as soon as
they were discovered, after which politics intervened to alter the course of their
Both works were seized by France under the terms of the Treaty of Tolentino in 1797 and
taken to the Louvre, where their presence is documented until 1811. In 1815, following the
defeat of Napoleon, the majority of confiscated works were returned to Italy. The figure
of the Tiber, however, was presented to the restored Bourbon monarch Louis XVIII by Pope
Pius VII, and remained in the collections of the Louvre.
The figure has been much admired since its discovery. Widely disseminated throughout
Europe by means of engravings and copies in marble and bronze, it inspired a number of
artists from the sixteenth century onwards.
A statue from the time of Hadrian?
It is difficult to date this statue precisely. The Tiber and the Nile were often
represented during the reign of Hadrian (AD 117-138); they featured on Imperial coinage,
and there was a copy of each statue at the emperor's villa at Tivoli. In addition, the
relief decorating the lower part of the piece is based not on the text of Virgil's Aeneid,
but on earlier versions of the epic myth - a choice perfectly in keeping with the tastes
of Hadrian, who preferred ancient authors.
Despite these clues, the dating of the piece remains open to debate: while some
commentators date it to the late first century AD, it may have been carved earlier. The
Iseum Campense was torn down under Tiberius in AD 19, and rebuilt under Caligula (AD
37-41) before burning down in the year AD 80. The figure of the Tiber would almost
certainly have been destroyed by the fire, hence a tentative date after AD 80, although
its location outside the temple might have saved it from the flames. We cannot discount
the possibility that it was in fact created during the rebuilding of the temple, under
from the Louvre Museum website
More information on other sculpture.