A fine Empire gilt bronze and rouge griotte marble statuette portraying an Amazonomachy scene portraying a beautiful female Amazon, her long hair beneath a helmet and holding in her left hand a crescent-shaped shield and a hatchet in the other, mounted on a rearing horse above a Greek warrior wearing a plumed helmet and loin cloth, who sits beneath the horse’s forelegs resting one hand, in which he holds a dagger, on the ground and the other up toward his opponent as he tries to defend himself, the group on a rectangular plinth on a stepped rouge griotte marble base with stiff leaf gilt bronze border and foliate scrolled lion paw feet
Paris, date circa 1815
Height 53 cm, width 50 cm, depth 24.5 cm.
This fine statuette represents an Amazonomachy or battle between the Greeks and the Amazons, a mythological tribe of female warriors. According to legend the Amazons were a race of female warriors who descended from Mars and Harmonia and according to which version one reads they either lived on the slopes of Caucasus or in Thrace and Scythia. No men were allowed to live with them, instead the Amazons mated with foreigners and then kept their female offspring but killed the males. A number of Greek heroes dared to brave the Amazons including Bellerophon, Hercules – who had to steal the girdle from the Amazon queen Hippolyta, as well as Theseus who helped Hercules and also abducted Antiope. The Amazons retaliated by invading Attica and installing themselves on the hill of Ares (Areopagus). They also came to the aid of the Trojans during the siege of Troy but were repelled by Achilles who fell passionately in love with Penthesilea while in the act of killing her.
The Amazons were one of the most popular themes to be represented in ancient art where, as here, the female Amazonian warriors were often portrayed riding a horse and seen holding either a hatchet as well as a bow, arrows and a light crescent-shaped shield that emphasizes how different they are from other warriors. They were often the subject of Attic ceramics, where the battle between Hercules and Theseus claimed equal attention and in temple sculptures such as the Parthenon or Bassae friezes. The Trojan episode is often portrayed on Roman sarcophagi where the subject tends to be of Achilles lifting the body of Penthesilea or more rarely the Amazon’s arrival in Troy after the death of Hector. The subject also appeared in Renaissance arts such as in Boccacio’s poetry and pictorially by Carpaccio as well as in the great Baroque scenes by Rubens. The later nineteenth century sculptors and bronziers also reproduced Amazonomachy scenes such as a bronze by Rudolf Kaesbach (1873-1950) showing an Amazonian kneeling with bow and quiver of arrows as well as another by Richter-Wolf (b. 1868) who portrayed a mounted Amazonian figure circa 1910. The present and earlier scene however appears to be rare among such images but would well accord with the myths and legends from Antiquity that so much inspired the Empire style.