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Saturday, June 27, 2020

The use of the antefix on Greek, Etruscan and Roman architecture

Antefixes were mold-made, usually brightly painted, terracotta decorative covers to conceal the edges of joined roof tiles and protect the seams from the elements.  They often took the form of heads, either of humans or mythological creatures. The earliest examples in museum collections date back to the 6th century BCE in both Greece and Etruria.  They were also a frequent feature on Roman architecture as well. 

On temple roofs, maenads and satyrs were often alternated.  The frightening features of the Gorgon, with its petrifying eyes and sharp teeth was also a popular motif to ward off evil.  A Roman example from the Augustan period features the butting heads of two billy goats.  It may have had special significance in imperial Rome since the constellation Capricorn was adopted by the emperor Augustus as his own lucky star sign and appeared on coins and legionary standards.

In 2005, I visited the Villa Giulia in Rome that houses a large Etruscan collection.  In their courtyard is a reproduction of an Etruscan temple with antefixes. I've included my images of it here along with photographs of various antefixes I have photographed at the Getty Villa, the Walters Art Museum and images of those at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Replica of an Etruscan temple at the Villa Giulia in Rome, Italy

Replica of an Etruscan temple at the Villa Giulia in Rome, Italy

Replica of an Etruscan temple at the Villa Giulia in Rome, Italy

Etruscan antefix 1st century BCE courtesy of  Jean-Pol Grandmont 

Etruscan Antefix with Head of Silenus 4th century BCE Terracotta  photographed
at the Walters Art Museum

Etruscan antefix in the shape of a dancing Maenad and Satyr 500-475 BCE
photographed at the Getty Villa

Etruscan Terracotta antefix with head of a maenad 4th century BCE On this Etruscan antefix from Cerveteri, the maenad wears an elaborate diadem and very large grape-cluster earrings, a type of jewelry especially popular in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E.

Greek Terracotta gorgoneion antefix 580-570 BCE The frightening features of this Gorgon head, its petrifying eyes and sharp teeth, correspond to its Archaic date and were likely intended to ward off evil. Throughout the following century, the Gorgon tended to lose its more terrifying characteristics, and by the Late Classical period, its features were sweetened.Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Antefix head of a satyr Etruscan 250-175 BCE courtesy of the Getty Villa 

Antefix Roman 1st century BCE - 1st century CE courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This example, showing Venus (Aphrodite, the goddess of love) and her lover Mars (Ares, the god of war), retains a considerable amount of its painted surface.

The palmette-shaped antefix is decorated with the butting heads of two billy goats. Such representations were popular motifs in ancient art but they may have had special significance in imperial Rome since the constellation Capricorn was adopted by the emperor Augustus as his own lucky star sign and appeared on coins and legionary standards.  Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


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