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portrait bust

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Marble terminal portrait bust of the blind poet Homer, with Greek letters carved on each side.

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 2ndC
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 57.15 centimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Language

  • Curator's comments

    Roman copy of a Hellenistic original of the 2ndC BC.Cook 2013, nr. 241:

    Townley's description; ‘A head of Homer, ending in a Terminus, found 1780 near Baiæ’(TY 12/3, library 22).
    The different dates for the discovery given in earlier sources (1781 in the ‘Union Catalogue’, fo. 21v; 1782 in the First Townley Inventory, head 18; and 1783 in TY 10/3) are all shown to be wrong by Hamilton’s letter offering the head in April 1780 (TY /641).

    Bought from Hamilton in late 1780 for £80.

    In 1780, Hamilton sold Townley a terminal bust of Homer (1805,0703.85) and a head of Diana (1805,0703.61). They were first offered in April at £100 and £60 respectively (TY 7/641), but in July the prices were reduced to £80 and £40, and at the same time Hamilton sent drawings (TY 7/643). Townley was in no hurry to decide, partly because there was at that time some possibility of acquiring sculptures that were due to arrive in Italy from Greece, as Hamilton reminded him on 10 September (TY 7/644), and partly because he was short of ready money, his tenants being slow to pay their rents (see 1805,0703.40). On 5 December, Townley confirmed that he wanted both items, suggesting that they should be sent from Leghorn in a neutral ship (TY 6/1, fo. 14). Hamilton acknowledged this letter on 10 January 1781 (TY 7/645), and on 1 March (TY 7/646) wrote that shipping of the two sculptures had been delayed in the hope of obtaining the portrait of Pericles (1805,0703.91). On 20 March, Townley replied that the heads of Homer and Diana could wait until peace was settled unless a neutral ship could be found (TY 6/1, fo. 19). On 3 July 1781 (TY 7/647), Hamilton reported that they had been embarked for Leghorn together with the bust of a faun (present location unknown, Cook 2011, nr. 243). Townley was still worried about the safety of the sculptures, and reiterated on 1 August that they were only to be entrusted to a safe ship (TY 6/1, fo. 30-1). In the same letter, he confirmed that he was short of money, being unable to send the £300 requested by Hamilton, although he would try to send £150. On 12 September (TY 7/655/1), Hamilton enclosed a letter from Thomas Panton at Leghorn (TY 7/655/2, dated 9 September) stating that Townley’s consignment was to go via Ostend. The ship duly sailed, but disaster struck off the coast of Spain. It was at first reported that the ship had been lost near Cadiz, but on 14 June 1782, Townley was able to report that it was only stranded, and that the cargo had been deposited under the Admiralty at Cadiz, from whom it could be reclaimed with a Bill of Lading, and was then to be shipped either back to Leghorn or, preferably, to England (TY 6/1, fo. 41-2). The process was slow. Hamilton wrote on 12 April 1783 that he had no news of the cases (TY 7/657), and although he added on 20 June that Panton had shipped the Homer to England (TY 7/659), he had to report on 10 January 1784, that he had received a letter from Panton to the effect that Homer was still a ‘prisoner of war’ (TY 7/662). It was not until 17 July 1784 that Hamilton was able to congratulate Townley that Homer and his companions had been recovered (TY 7/663). The whole process of negotiation and shipping had lasted over four years.

    Antonine copy (Boehringer); Roman version of lost Hellenistic original ca. 100 BC (Walker).

    * Townley drawing 2010,5006.140 (‘Sketched by Mr. Skirving’ in Townley’s hand);
    * Engraving 2010,5006.1877.7;
    * Zoffany: B. F. Cook, `The Townley Marbles in Westminster and Bloomsbury’, The British Museum Yearbook, 2 (1977), 36-37, figs. 19-20, no. 34.

    - Synopsis of the Contents of the British Museum (1808), X.33;
    - Ancient Marbles of the British Museum, II, pl. 25;
    - A Guide to the Graeco-Roman Sculptures in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, 2 vols. (London, 1874 [1892] and 1876), I, no. 117;
    - A. H. Smith, A Catalogue of Sculpture in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum, Vol. III (London 1904), 129-30, no. 1825, pl. X, fig.1; - R. and E. Boehringer, Homer: Bildnisse und Nachweis, I. Rundwerke (Breslau, 1939), 118-20, no. 11 (bibl.), pls 81-82;
    - G. M. A. Richter, Portraits of the Greeks, 3 vols. (London, 1965), I, 51, no. 13, figs. 88-90;
    - B. F. Cook, The Townley Marbles (London, 1985), 35, fig. 33, 37;
    - K. Fittschen et al., Verzeichnis der Gipsabgüsse des Archäologischen Instituts der Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (Göttingen, 1990), 138, A 625;
    - G. Davies, ‘The Albacini Cast Collection’, Journal of the History of Collections 3/2 (1991), 183-97, 162, no. 19;
    - S. Walker, Greek and Roman Portraits (London, 1995), 24, fig. 14.


  • Bibliography

    • Sculpture 1825 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G22

  • Exhibition history

    Exhibited: 2003, 18 Oct-14 Dec, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures 2004, 17 Jan-28 Mar, Kobe City Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures 2004, 10 Apr-13 Jun, Fukuoka Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures 2004, 26 Jun-29 Aug, Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures 2008-2009, 19 Oct-22 Mar, Washington, National Gallery of Art, Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples 2009, 3 May-4 Oct, California, LA County Museum of Art, Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples 2012, 26 Mar-17 Jul, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Manarat Al Saadiyat, 'Treasures of the British Museum' 2012-2013, Nov-Apr, Germany, Bonn, Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, 'Treasures of the World's Cultures'. 2015, 26 Mar-5 Jul, The British Museum, Defining Beauty: the body in ancient Greek art.
    2016, 11 Apr-17 Jul, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pergamon and the Art of the Hellenistic Kingdoms

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Greek & Roman Antiquities

  • Registration number



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