This naturalistic rendered bronze statue of a bull is attributed to Hellenistic or Roman workmanship, possibly dating from the 2nd century BCE–2nd century CE. The posture of the bull is upright with its gaze over its shoulder. The turned neck of the bull produces the impression of subtle movement, characteristic of the aesthetics of ‘restrained naturalism’ in classically inspired sculpture. The finely rendered hair across the surface of the body and the gentle depressions of articulated musculature and bone indicate the expertise and naturalistic intent of the artisan. Restored elements of the sculpture include its curved, s-shape horns, and hooves, which blend effortlessly into the overall style and composition of the piece.
Its precise function in antiquity is difficult to assess. Its Egyptian origins suggest it was an image for Roman devotees of the ‘Apis’ bull cult. Such cult images developed in the 1st–2nd centuries CE under Roman rule of Egypt. Typical ‘Apis’ bull images of the period have added elements like a sun disk. Alternatively, some scholars hypothesize that the Menil bull was part of a larger sculptural installation, like a mythological scene or an element of an elaborate fountain. Stylistically, the size and naturalistic rendering of the Menil statue of a bull is more akin to Greek or Hellenistic honorific and funerary sculpture of the 1st and 2nd centuries BCE. Burial within a tomb or sanctuary would better explain the superb condition of the piece, its proportions and stylistic treatment.
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