Marble tondo with male head in relief

Inv. Scu 702

Marble tondo with male head in relief. The face, completely turned sideways, is characterized by thick, unruly hair and a wavy short-locked beard. The arched eyebrows give the face a vigorous and moving tone. The nape is partially covered by the head of a wild boar, of which the surface hair is rendered in short parallel lines. This element could lead to identification with Meleager, the hero who led the hunt for the Calydonian boar.

The marked pathetic nature of the face is indicated by the open mouth, with the teeth visible, which in the current arrangement is the result of a restoration, carried out most likely in concomitance with the opening of a large hole on the reverse side of the medallion, that goes through the entire thickness of the relief and can perhaps be connected to the piece being used as a fountain mouth. To the sides of the head, one can see two rectangular cavities made in the background, most likely used to house metallic clamps that anchored the tondo to a wall.

The validity of this identification is proved by the presence of a head of Meleager among the sculptures of Villa d’Este acquired in 1753 by Benedetto XIV, who commissioned Bartolomeo Cavaceppi to carry out its restoration. The piece, which has been identified by 19th century commentators variously as a Faun or as Tydeus, has received scant attention from more recent critics who have always considered it as modern.

The presence of the sculpture in the Este collection since 1568 induces one to ascribe it to a Roman artist active in the middle of the 16th century: its apparent baroque appearance, which at first blush would seem to have knowledge of the Berninian experience, must actually be ascribed to the revival of pathetic formulas that were once peculiar to antique sculptures from which the sculptor may have drawn upon; although no specific reference model can be identified, it seems clear, in fact, that the artist was inspired by works of the Rhodio-Pergamene school that were well known among 16th-century artists.

The absence of similar sculptures in the repertoire of classic images, where the type of headwear covered by a boar head was not known, as well as the typology of the tondo indicate that the work was created in a post-antique period; in ancient clipeus images, the representation is enclosed within a frame in relief.