9557 An Italian white marble standing figure of a Parthian soldier in Roman Antique style, probably a captive, dressed in leggings and a cloak and wearing a Phrygian cap, leaning on a tree stump on a circular base.
Italian, Rome or Naples
Height: 48.5 ins (121 cms)
This unusual marble figure represents a romanticised view of a soldier captured during the first Roman-Parthian war between 54 BC and 217 AD to the eastern extremities of the Roman Empire. The Parthians, an ancient Iranian empire stretching across north eastern Iran, Armenia and Mesopotamia were constantly threatening the Roman eastern borders in attempts to control Mediterranean territories, these tensions were to continue for several centuries.
In Roman art, the Parthians were usually represented as wearing the characteristic Phrygian cap as well as a long cloak wrapped around loose trousers which were tucked into a slip-on boot. Quite distinct from depictions of Roman soldiers wearing steel and leather armour and helmets and traditional sandals, the Parthian captives were made to look like amateur and ill-equipped mercenaries. Always shown with their heads lowered or in a defeated pose, these figures can still be found on triumphal arches in Rome, with the most famous, the Farnese captives, now in Naples, extensively copied during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Our captive, carved in veined white Carrara marble would seem to date from the middle of the 18th century or early 19th century and was probably intended for external display. He would most likely have been paired with another captive as part of a walkway or colonnade in an Italianate garden. Copies of the Farnese captives were carved by Antoine Andre and Matthieu Lespagnandelle in 1687, for Louis XIV for the gardens of Versailles, the most influential gardens of the 17th century in Europe, where they can still be seen today.