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 p97  Antefixa

Unsigned article on pp97‑98 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

Woodcuts are from Smith's Dictionary; any color photos are mine © William P. Thayer

ANTEFIXA, terra-cottas, which exhibited various ornamental designs, and were used in architecture, to cover the frieze (zophorus) or cornice of the entablature (Festus, s.v.). These terra-cottas do not appear to have been used among the Greeks, but were probably Etrurian in their origin, and were thence taken for the decoration of than buildings.

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These Etruscan antefixa, each about 50 cm wide, are in the Museo Emilio Greco in Orvieto.

The name antefixa is evidently derived from the circumstance that they were fixed before the buildings which they adorned; and in many instances they have been found fastened to the frieze with leaden nails. They were formed in  p98 moulds, and then baked by fire; so that the number of them might be increased to any extent. Of the great variety and exquisite beauty of the workman­ship, the reader may best form an idea by inspecting the collection of them in the British Museum.

The two imperfect antefixa, here represented, are among those found at Velletri, and described by Carloni (Roma, 1785).

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The first of them must have formed part of the upper border of the frieze, or rather of the cornice. It contains a panther's head, designed to serve as a spout for the rain-water to pass through in descending from the roof. Similar antefixa, but with comic masks instead of animals' heads, adorned the temple of Isis at Pompeii. The second of the above specimens represents two men who have a dispute, and who come before the sceptre-bearing kings, or judges, to have their cause decided. The style of this bas-relief indicates its high antiquity, and, at the same time, proves that the Volsci had attained to considerable taste in their architecture. Their antefixa are remarkable for being painted: the ground of that here represented is blue; the hair of the six men is black, of brown; their flesh red; their garments white, yellow, and red: the chairs are white. The two holes may be observed, by which this slab was fixed upon the building.

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Cato the Censor complained that the Romans of his time began to despise ornaments of this description, and to prefer the marble friezes of Athens and Corinth (Liv. XXXIV.4). The rising taste which Cato deplored may account for the superior beauty of the antefixa preserved in the British Museum, which were discovered at Rome. A specimen of them is given at the foot of the preceding column. It represents Athena superintending the construction of the ship Argo. The man with the hammer and chisel is Argus, who built the vessel under her direction. The pilot Tiphys is assisted by her in attaching the sail to the yard. Another specimen of the antefixa is given under the article Antyx.

Thayer's Note:

You may also find it useful to look at the Dictionary's article on roof tiles.

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Page updated: 2 Dec 04