Roman, 1st Century AD

A marble funerary altar inscribed for Mystes and her son Dorius

Mellini Collection, Palazzo Mellini, Piazza Navona, Rome, early 16th Century
Cesi Collection, Palazzo Cesi on the Janiculum, Rome, second half of the 16th Century
John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford (1710-1771), Southampton House, Bloomsbury Square, London, mid-18th Century
Sandra Helen Payson (1926-2004), art collector, philanthropist, and racing enthusiast, Ashleigh House, Delaplane, Virginia,
by descent to the present owner

Comparative Literature:
Battista Brunelleschi, Florence, Biblioteca Marucelliana, Ms. A 78, 1, fol. 38r, 1509-1513, drawing of entire altar
Jacobus Mazochius (Giacomo Mazzocchio), Epigrammata antiquae Urbis, 1521,p. 93, verso: "in domo domini Petripauli de Mellinis"
Martinus Smetius (Martin Smet), Inscriptionum antiquarum quae passim per Europam liber, Leiden, 1588, fol. 122, no. 4: "in aedibus Ioh. Baptistae. Millini, ad Agonem: in ara marm. eleganti"
Jean-Jacques Boissard, Pars Romanae Urbis Topographiae & Antiquitatum, vol. III: Topographia Romanae Urbis, vol. III, Frankfurt, 1597, pl. 77: "apud Card. Caesianum"
Jan Gruter, Inscriptiones antiquae totius orbis romani, vol. II, Amsterdam, 1707, p. 986, no. 4, engraving after Boissard on the next page
Bernard de Montfaucon, L'antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures, vol. 5,1, Paris, p. 92g, engraving after Boissard
Scipione Maffei, Museum veronense, Verona, 1749, p. 445, no. 8: "In villa Southampton"
Gaetano Marini, Gli atti e monumenti de Fratelli Arvalli scolpiti già in tavola di marmo, Rome, 1795, p. 123
Bachofen, "La lupa romana su monumenti," Annali dell' Instituto di correspondenza archeologica, vol. 40, 1868, p. 426, no. 5
Peter Aichholzer, Darstellungen römischer Sagen, Vienna, 1983, p. 92
Marco Buonocore, Schiavi e liberti dei Volusi Saturnini, Rome, 1984, p. 94, no. 46
Dietrich Boschung, Antike Grabaltäre aus den Nekropolen Roms, 1987, p. 62, no. 653. pl. 17
Sandro Santolini, "Pietro e Mario Millini fondatori di una dinastia di collezionisti antiquari," in
Anna Cavallaro, ed., Collezioni de antichità a Roma da '400 e '500, Rome, 2007, p. 51, fig. 18
William Stenhouse, The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo. Ancient Inscriptions, London, 2002, p.    18

Miraculously well preserved this elaborately carved marble is an impressive example of a Flavian period funerary altar and a rare work in private hands. Typical of the period it is rich in ornament and figured motif; notably with large garlands which are suspended across the front and sides and supported by rams’ heads to the upper corners.
To the front, above the garland, is an eagle with outstretched wings, below are depicted Romulus and Remus suckling a she-wolf.  Above the eagle is a central panel of Latin text engraved with seven lines translating: "To the Spirits of the Departed. Volusia Irene to Mystes, slave of Lucius Volusius Saturninus, and to Dorius her son, who lived fifteen years and six months, with the permission of our master Quintus," (Diis Manibus/Mysti Luci Volusi/Saturnini servo/Volusia Irene et/Dorio filio/vixit annis XV, mensibus VI; permissu Quiniti nostri).
At the bottom there is an integral moulded base and finely carved seated sphinxes -which balance the rams’ heads above. To either short side, birds pluck fruit from the garlands above which, on one side is a patera, and on the other side a ewer. The reverse back side has been removed and replaced with an 18th century exact replica of the front, there is a rectangular cavity for the ashes and atop the work is a later Italian marble top.