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Cushion and fabric selling scenes

Roman Art

Mid 1st century A.D.
Luni marble
cm 48 x 78
1914 nos. 315, 313

The capital of the empire, like the most illustrious municipalities, also sparkled with luxurious shops, which animated the meeting and strolling places of the rich and elegant people of Rome. An example of this are two beautiful reliefs from the funerary monument of a wealthy merchant, which unfortunately remains anonymous, as the inscription mentioning his name remains missing. Thanks to the high quality of the reliefs, the two works portray vividly the activity of a cloth and cushion shop, with which the deceased wanted to decorate his tomb as a perpetual reminder of the professional and personal success achieved in life.

In this representation of the sale of cloth the men dominate the scene: the two shop assistants on the left show a large fabric, possibly woollen cloth, lightly draped, to a pair of elegant buyers seated on a bench, dressed in a long tunic and toga, assisted by a servant; in the centre, a standing man, perhaps the shopkeeper himself, appears to solemnly present the fabric.

In the second relief, on the other hand, a matron takes centre stage (Inv. 1914 No. 313): the shop assistants, observed by a supervisor, pull a fine fabric, similar to that of the cushions on display, out of a container and show it to a couple. The status of the purchasers is defined by the presence of the servants behind them, by their clothing, but above all by the hairstyle of the woman, which echoes that of the empress of the time, Agrippina the Younger, wife of Claudius and mother of Nero, whose shoulder-length curls, elegantly and beautifully rendered, capture the viewer by focusing attention on the matron.

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