Marble portrait of an unknown man

Hellenistic, 100-50 BC
Said to have been found at Koskinu, Rhodes

A touch of pathos for a funerary function?

The Hellenistic period saw the rise of the private portrait, no doubt as a result of the emergence of the middle classes as an important social and economic group in society. Portrait heads appeared on rings and gems used as seals, but portrait sculptures were always full-length, whether on grave stelae or erected as statues on inscribed bases, informing the viewer of the name and social status of the subject. Some portraits were set up by the civic community to honour an individual who had contributed funds towards public buildings, or provided benefaction to society at large. Others were awarded to important officials or priests and priestesses. Portrait statues could also be used like stelae to mark graves. As Rome conquered the Greek world, portraits of private individuals abounded and it is sometimes uncertain whether the subject portrayed is a pro-Roman Greek or a Greek-loving Roman.

For male portraits, such as this, the overt idealism seen in portraits of earlier periods is gone. Subjects were often shown as middle-aged, with receding hairlines, wrinkles and other general signs of ageing - there is a strong effect of conspicuous realism. This man also exhibits distinct signs of compassion, with a touch of pathos in the twist of his head that may suggest that the whole figure served a funerary function. The head is separately carved with part of the draped upper body to be inserted into a clothed figure.

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More information


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

R.R.R.Smith, Hellenistic sculpture (London, Thames and Hudson, 1991)

A.H. Smith, A catalogue of sculpture in -1, vol. 2 (London, British Museum, 1900)


Height: 46.000 cm

Museum number

GR 1867.5-4.7 (Sculpture 1965)



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