Welcome to the GJCL Classical Art website! To prepare for the Classical Art test at State Convention, 1) study our blog posts, old and (especially) new, right up to the eve of the Convention (4/12-14/2019), 2) review old tests with their accompanying images (available for download below), and 3) read the books about Greek and Roman art recommended for the NJCL test (Susan Woodford, The Art of Greece and Rome  and John Boardman, ed., The Oxford History of Classical Art ).
This round altar (of white marble and 73 cm tall by 57 cm in
diameter) adorned the Horti Sallustiani, the Gardens of Sallust between the Pincian
and Quirinal hills. Found in 1886, it is
one of many sculptures found there, including the famous Dying Gaul (a Roman
copy of a Hellenistic original) and the Ludovisi Throne (long regarded as an
early classical masterpiece but now controversial).On stylistic grounds the altar has been dated
to the early years of Claudius’s reign, at about the time when the Horti Sallustiani
became imperial property in AD 41.It
was then that the adopted grandson of the historian C. Sallustius Crispus (86-34
BC), the early developer and eponym of the gardens, married Agrippina the
Younger at Claudius’ behest.
Decorating this altar are four winged putti (cherubic boys),
each representing a season. They are
separated by tall vase-shaped cultic pillars embellished with acanthus leaves
and blossoms. Atop the pillars are grooved
amphorae with pointed covers, suggesting vessels for burning incense. From the handles of the amphorae hang
draperies like baldachins, like heaven’s vault above the head of the each
Winter (above) wears a short tunic that leaves one shoulder
bare.In his lowered left hand he holds
an object left unfinished by the sculptor, probably a goose.With his right hand he shoulders a water
pitcher.The reference is to the cult of
the Egyptian goddess Isis, whose rites were celebrated in January under the
Roman Empire. The putto’s tunic refers
to the white linen shirts worn by the Isiac celebrants.The goose refers to the one slaughtered at
the festival of Isis and whose liver was offered to the goddess.Ritual ablutions belonged to the cult, too,
and the water pitcher alludes to them.
The naked figure of Spring recalls the festival of Magna
Mater or Cybele. At her festival simple
country foods were eaten, such as cheese, herb dumplings, and fruit; the
participants were bedecked in garlands of flowers. In his right hand Spring holds such a garland,
while on his left arm he balances a tray of first fruits.
Winter and Spring face one another, heads lowered and with a
With his back to Spring stands Summer, naked, like Spring,
and with a small cloak draped over his left forearm. In his right hand he holds a sickle for
reaping grain. In his left hand he holds a stalk with a poppy seed capsule. These are the attributes of Demeter-Ceres,
goddess of agriculture, honored especially in Eleusis, to the west of
Athens. Her mysteries were celebrated in
Finally, Autumn. On a
pedestal to his left stands a basket full of grapes. In his right hand he holds
a knotty shepherd’s crook. An animal
skin is draped over his shoulder: the nebris, also worn by followers of
Dionysus. Dionysus’ most important festival
took place at the time of the autumn grape harvest. This putto has the largest wings. He looks back at Summer, who, like him, has a
On this altar it is the mystery religions, not the
official Roman state cults, that mark the seasons.
Most Roman altars are rectangular, but this round one follows the Archaic East Greek tradition, which came to Rome via Pergamum. The round form corresponds to the cyclical
nature of seasons.
This altar is the earliest specimen of putti representing
the seasons. Male Seasons are attested
on sculpture from the first century AD, as, for example, on the Tomb of the
Haterii. They are also found on the Arch
of Trajan at Beneventum and on the Arch of Septimius Severus in the Roman
Forum. Under the Severans they begin to
appear on sarcophagi. Indeed, the “season
sarcophagus” constitutes a type.
The example pictured above is the Season Sarcophagus from
Rome. It dates to ca. AD 330. The four winged figures (youths, not cherubs)
represent Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn.
Spring and Summer hold a roundel whose rim is decorated with the signs
of the zodiac and which contains the portraits (unfinished) of the deceased husband
and wife. Supporting the roundel are putti
harvesting grapes; to the left, between Winter and Spring, another little
figure milks a goat, while to the right, between Summer and Autumn, there is yet
another one harvesting wheat.
George Hanfmann showed that it was the Romans who invented the
representation of the seasons as putti and first used them in funerary
sculpture. The Greeks of the Archaic and
Classical periods had their Horae (they are already on the François vase), but
it was not until the Hellenistic period that they came to represent the Four
Seasons personified and began to stand for cyclic regularity, cosmic order, and
earthly prosperity. On Roman sarcophagi
they came to represent eternal happiness for the deceased. And the use of male Seasons was indeed Roman: they appear for the most part in art produced in and around the city of Rome. Specimens outside Rome and Italy are few and
Hanfmann says that the first representation of the Seasons
as boys occurred on the Arch of Trajan at Beneventum (built AD 114-117). It seems that he forgot about the Four Seasons
Altar from the Horti Sallustiani produced over a half century earlier!
Hanfmann, George. The Season Sarcophagus in Dumbarton Oaks. 1951.
Kleiner, Diana. Roman Sculpture. 1992. 458-459.
Knauf-Museum Iphofen. Reliefsammlung
der grossen Kulturepochen. 2005. 182-183.
Simon, Erika. Der Vierjahreszeiten-Altar in Würzburg. 1967.