The Punishment of Dirce and its Origin

Unarguably, one of the most unique sculptures residing in the National Archeological Museum of Naples is “The Punishment of Dirce”. This is one of the largest originated in Greco-Roman antiquity. It is also known as “The Famese Bull”, as it


was excavated in 1545 in Rome by the Famese family. Blair Stover notes it was originally, they place it in the Palazzo Famese.

Due to the large scale, the sculpture fascinates. At over 12 feet high, with both a length and width of 9 ½ feet, the elaborately constructed sculpture group was created entirely from one single block of marble.

The artwork subject is the appalling punishment of Dirce who mistreated the sons of Antiope. Amphion and Zethos were twins who are typing her to a bull so that she will be dragged and trampled to her death. The sculpture has captured the tension of the moment while she struggles against her impending fate.

This sculpture was excavated by a team directed by Pope Paul III in the mid 16th century. Pope Paul III was originally from the wealthy and influential Famese family. The sculpture was unearthed at the time when Michelangelo lived in Rome, just as the Laocoon was. Originally, it was displayed in the Famese palazzo and Michelangelo was commissioned by the family to design a fountain for it.

What makes this sculpture so enthralling is that it is a true sculpture in the round. As the viewer makes their way around and observes the scene changes from the different angles. A specific point for viewers to observe is not really necessary.

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