Fragment of a temple

This large marble fragment not only stands out for the impressive decoration in low relief, but also for the gleam and purity of the material from which it is made. A large clipeus comprised of three concentric circles fills the centre of the fragment. There is a rosette with seven petals in the centre of the clipeus and circling around this, are two bands of double acanthus leaves separated into panels. On one side of the fragment we find minutely detailed carving of a band of vegetal rinceaux which bring to mind those decorating the Ara Pacis.

Acanthus leaves, especially those from the Mediterranean varieties of acanthus genus and spinosus, inspired Callimachus, according to Vitruvius, to develop the Corinthian capital. The jagged outline of the leaves and their strong veining offered sculptors an excuse to experiment with the play of light and shadow, creating effects of chiaroscuro in architecture. However, the motif of concentric vegetal wreaths is also found in the working of precious metals and jewellery. Other authors have observed stylisation of palm leaves in the depiction of acanthus leaves. The schematisation of the former led to the creation of a great variety of decorative elements especially visible in Hellenistic and Roman architecture.

The motif of clipei in ancient art had its origin in the representation of the large circular shields wielded by troops in battle. This came to form part of the classical repertoire with the intention of evoking fame and victory. Although clipei appear in a variety of supports (mosaics, sculpture, paintings), it is in the architectural decoration of the Roman fora where they become a reference to imperial power. The representation of an apparently perfect circle is achieved thanks to the combination of various geometric figures, especially the hendecagon, as can be seen in the radiating panels where the acanthus leaves appear in this relief in question.

While most of the clipei which decorate the fora of the Roman metropoles are rich in ropework and vegetal decoration, they are usually crowned with an effigy of a deity (Zeus-Amon, Medusa, Oceanus, etc.). However, in the case of the Forum of Pozzuoli, the reconstruction of the relief would appear to be merely phytomorphic. Clipei were not only placed on the entablature of the porticos around the fora, the centres of urban life in ancient Rome, but were also placed in spandrels, on peristyles, triumphal arches, in thermal bath complexes, etc.


- BARRERA ANTÓN, J.L. La decoración arquitectónica de los foros de Augusta Emerita. L’Erma di Bretschneider. 2000. p. 480.
- TOLDRÀ, J.M. et ali. “The octagon, the hendecagon and the approximation of pi: the geometric design of the clypeus in the enclosure of Imperial cult in Tarraco”, XII International Forum, Napoles I Capri. 2014.
- RIEGL, A. Problems of style: foundations for a history of ornament. Princeton. 1992. p. 187-206.
- ZEVI, F. - VALERI, C. “Cariatidi e clipei: il foro di Pozzuoli”, Le due patrie acquisite. Studi di archeologia dedicati a Walter Trillmich, ed. L’Erma di Bretschneider. 2008. p. 443-464.

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