Bronze portrait of a man

Greek, around 300 BC
From the Temple of Apollo at Cyrene, Libya

Copper-plated lips and bone teeth

The thick-walled casting of this bronze portrait of a man suggests the date of about 300 BC. It is superbly modelled, with high, prominent cheekbones, short curly hair and a sketchily incised beard and moustache. The full, copper-plated lips were inserted from the inside, with the original red tint contrasting effectively with the colour of the face. The lips are slightly parted revealing bone teeth - when new, the teeth would have had a striking appearance. The eyelids and lashes were also separately made, and the eye-sockets filled with enamel paste, traces of which survive. These facial characteristics suggest that the man is a north African, possibly an important member of the Berber peoples, the native Cyrenaicans.

Excavations at Cyrene have yielded large numbers of marble sculptures, but sculptures in bronze are a rare find there, as indeed they are from anywhere in the Classical world. This unique portrait was discovered on the marble paving of a Hellenistic temple. It was found eleven feet below the mosaic floor of the Roman reconstruction of the building, which housed the colossal cult statue of Apollo now in The British Museum. With the bronze head were found charred fragments of bronze horse's legs, and remains of gold leaf: parts of the sculpture were probably gilded. The portrait may have come from a single horseman, or from a chariot group commemorating a victory in a sporting event.

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More information

Bibliography

S. Walker, Greek and Roman portraits (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

L. Burn, The British Museum book of Gre (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

C.C. Mattusch, Classical bronzes (Cornell University Press, 1996)

E. Rosenbaum, A catalogue of Cyrenaican port (Oxford University Press, 1960)

Dimensions

Height: 30.500 cm

Museum number

GR 1861.11-27.13 (Bronze 268)

GAA9482

Excavated by Capt. R. Murdoch Smith and Commander E. Porcher

Location

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