|Image from the official website for Pompeii and Naples|
As important as just finding a Roman eagle with a snake, even if not fully understanding their relationship, is the treatment of the feathers on the neck and body, which are the same. Neck feathers are smaller but similarly untidy in their arrangement as the body, sort of tousled, again nearly fur-like, although here due no doubt to the large scale and different medium, the feathers are distinct and clear, unlike on my bronze.
|photo taken of an illustration in a book showing a statue of Zeus with his eagle.|
Again taken from the web, a statue in the Vatican of Ganymede and the Eagle, who is Zeus in disguise. Here the feathers are more like fur again.
Another image taken of a book page with a photo of a relief of Ganymede and the eagle of Zeus. Here, even though a very poor resolution image, you can see a wavy fur-like pattern of the feathers as on my eagle.
Another photo from a book on Roman sarcophagi, here one found in Nikopolis, and again, even in this poor quality image you can see the wavy fur-like treatment of the body and neck feathers of the eagle. I would like to find other examples and get better quality photos of them, but even this small sampling supports that the Romans did depict eagles in the manner in my bronze.
However below you will see the exact iconography:
|Taken from an article titled, Eagle and Serpent. A study in the Migration of Symbols, by Rudolf Witkower, published in the Journal of the Warburg Institute, Vol. 2, No. 4, 1939.|
The photo is of a relief on the apex of the interior of a Triumphal Arch at Pola which is in Croatia. The eagle grasps the snake in his talons, and they look at each other in the same way as in my eagle. Here the snake is proportionately larger than in the bronze, and the low relief carving is not as well sculpted as the bronze or the other marble examples cited above. It is slightly provincial in the quality of its carving, as is found in the outlying areas of the Roman Empire. Wittkower interpreted the depiction on this arch to be about the triumph of Rome over its enemies, however, I am less sold on that idea. Again, the snake is hardly dead here, it is huge and quite dangerous looking. Its not even clear that the eagle intends to kill the snake, while he is holding the snake in his talons, he is also is looking at the snake as the snake looks at him, he is not rending the snake and dealing a death blow to it.
The Pola Arch may tell us the original purpose of the bronze and explain the holes in the wings and tail. Perhaps they were for attachment in an architectural setting, the coffer of a ceiling or an arch or other structure. It does read very well from below. There is no other way of displaying it, unless you mount it on a stand as I did, otherwise it would either have to be hung as it was at Christie's. Roman public buildings often had bronze architectural decoration. An infamous example is the Pantheon which was stripped of its bronze decoration by one of the Popes, which was melted down and cast by Bernini to make the Baldachinno over the altar at St. Peter's Cathedral. Survival of such bronze architectural decoration is rare, as it was pillaged to melt down for weapons, coins and the like.
I continue to look for parallels and evidence to support the eagle, and will report back here should something come up. If anyone can contribute reading this, please feel free to comment or email me with your thoughts.