Roman Sculpture from Volubilis (Morocco)

17.03.2016 – 03.05.2016

Main Building

This exhibition of Roman sculpture from the Rabat Archaeological Museum is held on the occasion of the visit of King Mohammed VI of Morocco to Russia.

In antiquity, the territory of present-day Morocco was part of the Roman Empire and was located at its southwestern fringe.

The eight large figures on display here present the sculpture of Volubilis (from the Latin word for "generous": most likely, 'city on generous and fruitful earth') – one of the largest cities in this region that is commonly considered to have been the capital of the kingdom of Mauritania. Volubilis was found in approximately the 3rd century BC and was populated by Berbers, Greeks, Jews and Syrians. In 40 AD, Emperor Caligula annexed it to the Roman Empire. Its inhabitants mined copper, cultivated grapes and produced olive oil. During its heyday, the city had a population of about 20,000 people. The Romans withdrew from Volubilis in the late 3rd century, yet the traditions of Roman culture were so strong that, when the Arabs arrived 400 years later, the local population still spoke Latin.

As in other Roman provinces, different arts flourished in Volubilis, and monumental buildings, basilicas and triumphal arches adorned with sculptural figures were built. Sculptures stood on city squares; floors in wealthy houses were covered with luxurious mosaics; and interiors were decorated with fine ornaments and filled with elegant statuettes.

Frequent earthquakes were unable to destroy all the wealth of the ancient city. Excavations were began in 1915 during the period of French rule, leading to the discovery of priceless monuments of architecture, sculpture and applied art. In 1997, Volubilis was put on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

The exhibition includes two marble statues of popular Roman sculptural types (Sleeping Papposilenus and River Deity), as well as several bronzes. It also contains animal figures (dogs and horses) that are made with the characteristic Roman love for naturalism, the statue of an old man that is typical of Hellenistic Alexandria (2nd-1st centuries BC), and the wonderful figure of a youth making libations executed in the tradition of Praxiteles, the great Greek master of the 4th century BC. A particularly impressive sculpture is the bust of Cato that was found in the "House of Venus" (where the other bronzes were discovered, too). We see a somewhat dry yet inwardly powerful image of the intransigent Republican and stoic philosopher Marcus Porcius Cato the Younger, who was very popular in Roman Africa. The original may have been executed in 46 BC – the year when the famous politician committed suicide after the city of Utica in Mauritania where he had taken refuge was besieged by his enemy Julius Caesar.

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