Height: 74.700 cm
Gift of Sir William Hamilton
GR 1776.11-8.2 (Sculpture 1736)
Enlightenment: Natural world
Marble bust of Hercules
Roman, 2nd century AD
Said to have been found at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, Campania, Italy
The bust represents the Greek hero Herakles (Roman Hercules). The head closely resembles that of the 'Herakles Farnese', a colossal marble statue that shows the hero resting on his club after he obtained the apples of the Hesperides. The Farnese statue was a Roman copy after a bronze original by the renowned late classical Greek sculptor Lysippos. It had been discovered in 1546 and was one of the most famous ancient marbles in Rome.
This bust was acquired by the collector Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), then British Envoy to the Royal court at Naples. It was skilfully restored and set into a modern bust emulating the pose of the Farnese Hercules by the British sculptor Joseph Nollekens (1737-1823). Nollekens established himself as dealer and restorer of antiquities during his nine-year stay in Rome from 1761 to 1770.
Hamilton presented the bust together with a number of other antiques to the British Museum in 1776. He clearly rated it highly, as the following letter attests:
'Do let the Hercules bust be well placed, [Gavin] Hamilton declares it better than that of the Farnese. The presents I have made, & have further to make to the Museum since my return here have, I am sure, cost me near £300, thou' the old dons do not as much as thank me when I send a work of art. They are delighted with a spider or a shell, & send me many thanks for such presents. I do not care, it is the honour of the Hamiltonian collection that spurs me on.'
I. Jenkins and K. Sloan, Vases and Volcanoes: Sir Willi (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)
A.H Smith, A catalogue of sculpture in -2, vol. 3 (London, British Museum, 1904)
N.H. Ramage, 'Sir William Hamilton as collector, exporter, and dealer: the acquisition and dispersal of his collection', American Journal of Archaeol-2, 94 (1990), pp. 469-80, esp. 477