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Marble bust of 'Clytie'


Height: 57.000 cm

Townley Collection

GR 1805.7-3.79 (Sculpture 1874)

    Marble bust of 'Clytie'

    Roman, about AD 40-50
    Said to be from near Naples, Italy

    This sculpture was acquired from the family of the Principe Laurenzano in Naples by the renowned British collector Charles Townley (1737-1805) during his extended second Grand Tour of Italy (1771-74). It was to remain one of Townley's favourite sculptures.

    The identity of the subject, a woman emerging from a calyx of leaves, was much discussed among the antiquaries in Townley's circle. At first referred to as Agrippina, the bust is still known as Clytie, a nymph who had fallen in love with the god Helios and was turned into a sunflower. Townley himself later believed her to represent Isis in the flower of Lotus.

    Modern scholars remain divided over the identity of the bust, some even claiming that it was made in the eighteenth century. Others consider it to be an ancient work, representing Antonia Minor (died AD 38), mother of the emperor Claudius, or a Roman lady of that period portrayed as Ariadne.

    The bust of Clytie figures prominently in Johan Zoffany's iconic painting of Charles Townley in his library, and was one of three ancient marbles Townley had printed on his visiting card. It is said that the sculptor Nollekens always had in stock a marble copy of the bust for sale, such was her popularity.

    B.F. Cook, The Townley Marbles (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)

    S. Walker, 'Clytie - a false woman?' in Why fakes matter: essays on -1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1993), pp. 32-40

    A.H Smith, A catalogue of sculpture in -2, vol. 3 (London, British Museum, 1904)


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