Height: 29.500 cm
GR 1760.9-19.1 (Bronze 847)
Room 22: Alexander the Great
Bronze head from a full length portrait
Hellenistic Greek, 2nd century BC
Acquired in Constantinople (modern Istanbul), Turkey
Perhaps the poet Sophokles
(about 496-406 BC)
During the Hellenistic period portrait types were created to represent earlier historical figures. The Athenian dramatist Sophokles (about 496-406 BC) lived during the fifth century BC, but most surviving portraits of him are Roman copies or versions of Hellenistic creations. Such statues adorned the libraries of the Hellenistic kingdoms. The Romans continued the practice, often reducing the full-length portrait to a more compact bust or herm (a head on a pillar), sometimes inscribed with the name of the subject.
This head represents a man of middle age, with a thick beard, slightly thinning hair and a severe expression, enhanced by a deeply wrinkled brow. His hair is bound by a rolled band, like a diadem of a type usually associated with Hellenistic rulers, rather than philosophers or playwrights. The body types for statues of famous intellectuals are generally semi-draped, with perhaps only the chest bared. Both the body and the face usually exhibit signs of age.
Acquired in Constantinople (Istanbul) in the early seventeenth century for the Arundel Collection, the head then entered the possession of Dr Richard Mead (1673-1754) and later was in the collection of the Earl of Exeter. In 1760 the Earl presented the head to The British Museum.
S. Walker, Greek and Roman portraits (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
L. Burn, The British Museum book of G-1, revised edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)