Figure of God Ares or Mars

Impressive hollow bronze figure of a completely naked young man standing on a rectangular podium with a plinth. It stands out that the intention of the artist was to emphasise the perfect musculature of the body, which is here posed with the off-axis harmony of the contrapposto. The missing right arm would have been made separately and fitted into the body. The left arm, in contrast, reaches down and forward and is holding a sword with the help of the forearm and the hand. This weapon is partially lost and may have been in fact held in its scabbard. The man’s hair is gathered below the helmet. This has a high crest with incisions on it which represent feathers.

The figure could be either a god or a hero, but given the attributes of helmet and sword, we may conclude he is a warrior. It is a deduction, but most certainly an accurate on, that this effigy is of the Greek god Ares.

In classical antiquity, Ares was the Greek god of war. This activity must be understood as uncontrolled, unleashed violence. For this reason, he is depicted as a strong young warrior, tall and terrifying, always armed and ready for battle, a lover of embroilment and bloodshed.

Greeks were not great devotees of this god: they worshipped him in very few sanctuaries. Few images of him exist, most of which are from the Roman era in the form of busts, statues, coins, reliefs and jewellery. These followed the model of the Athenian sculptor Alcamenes. He was perhaps born in the Athenian cleruchy on the island of Lemnos, but his working life was spent in Athens as a disciple of Phidias and Kritios in the 5th century BC. Pausanias refers to a statue of Ares, a work of Alcamenes, which had been erected in the Agora at Athens, and this has been related to the Ares Borghese. However, the temple of Ares to which he refers had only been moved from Acharnes and re-sited in the Agora in Augustus’s time, and statues known to derive from Alcamemes’ statue show the god in a breastplate, so the identification of Alcamenes’ Ares with the Ares Borghese today in the Louvre Museum is not secure.

The Romans, however, assimilated the god Ares into their own divinity of war, Mars, an extremely popular god and part of the essence of Roman character. He is even given a role in the legend of the foundation of Rome as the father of Romulus and Remus.

Normally Ares is represented as a young man, with an anastole hairstyle (common to Greek warriors), and a hairless body and face. A chariot and flaming torch are among his symbols. Ares drove a chariot pulled by four immortal fire-breathing horses with bridles of gold. Among the other gods, Ares could be identified by his bronze suit of armour, his spear, his helmet with a red crest (used by the armies of the Greek Polis) and his sword.

As has been mentioned, few images of the Greek god still survive where one can see the heroic god naked. This contrasts with images of the Roman god Mars, depicted as middle-aged in military garb, of whom innumerable examples of small lars can be found, usually made in bronze.

The dimensions of the sculpture are of note, as most of the images conserved of deities are smaller than twenty centimetres in height. These were made so the gods could be worshipped in chapels and lararia in Roman homes. There are fewer existing larger examples of these deities as in times of war and conflict they were melted down to be turned into arms or for the creation of other images by the opposing force. The height of this sculpture, at 40 centimetres, means therefore that it can be considered a Roman bronze “of great height”. The piece could have been for worship in a lararium of a private home or, for example, could have been transported and displayed in the quarters a high-ranking member of the military to bring him good fortune and victory on the battlefield.

The lararium was a small shrine in Roman houses in which the family members could place offerings on an altar and offer up prayers to the household gods. These were represented by statuettes called lares, mostly made of bronze. In patrician residences the lararium was in general found in the atrium, the central hall of the residence. In a simpler residence without an atrium, the shrine would be in the kitchen near the central fire.

Mars was the son of Juno and Jupiter while transfigured as a flower. According to mythology, Juno fled Olympus and entered a temple dedicated to Flora. Here this goddess advised Juno to pick the most beautiful flower ever to be found from the fields of Olenia. This she did, but the flower in reality was Jupiter transformed. On picking it, Mars, the god of war, was born in her lap.

For the Romans Mars was the god of war, and, as such, he was represented with arms and a helmet, ready to enter into combat. Originally, he was the patron god of all the peoples of the Italian peninsula, be they farmers or warriors, a fact reflected in his double nature, in the same way as other Roman gods. Therefore, he was the god of war and of the underworld, associated with the earth and with the spiritual and physical protection of the crops.

He enjoyed immense popularity and was one of the gods most worshipped in Rome, only surpassed by Jupiter in popularity. In his representations we find a man armed with a helmet and a lance, and at times with a sword and shield. Sometimes he is depicted nude, at other times with warriors’ accoutrements, and even with a cape over his shoulders. Normally he is depicted as a clean-shaven young man but at other times he is a mature, bearded man. Sometimes he carries a baton of command. He may also carry a shield decorated with the head of Medusa.

The technique of lost wax casting is a sculptural procedure using a mould made from a prototype of the piece to be worked, and this prototype is usually made from beeswax. This is covered with a thick layer of soft material, usually clay, which then solidifies. Once this has hardened it is put in a kiln where the wax inside melts and leaks out from expressly made holes in the clay. In its place molten metal is injected and this takes on the exact form of the mould. To remove the final piece the mould must be removed.

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