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Roman Marble Head of Heracles with Vine Leaves Crown

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: Roman
: 2nd - 3rd century A.D.
: Marble
: H: 25.3 cm

Sotheby’s London, July 8, 1991, lot 259


The face and beard of the head, which probably belonged to a smaller than life size statue, are perfectly crafted and show great detail.

The man is represented as an adult in the prime of his life, as evidenced by the muscular shoulders and stocky neck. His head, wearing a garland of vine that goes around the skull is slightly turned to the left, but his gaze is directed forward. Its face is framed by thick hair and a thick beard parted on the chin by a vertical groove; the mouth, with parted lips, is fleshy. The facial features are precise with many wrinkles on the cheeks, near the sides of the nose and forehead; pierced eyes with almond shaped pupils. The expression that emerges from this head shows a concentrated or preoccupied man.

The identification of this person is not assured, however, the presence of vine leaves lends to the idea that it may be a head of Dionysus (Bacchus to the Romans), but the wine god is usually represented as a young beardless man, while iconography with big beard and thick hair is rather reserved for the Dionysian mask, with banquet scenes or parades with satyrs and maenads and hermaïques pillars, according to an iconography dating back to the fifth century BC.

The typology of the head (strong man, beard and curly and abundant hair, stern expression) is much closer to the characteristics of the images of different gods, heroes or philosophers, as reproduced from the end of the Classical period (Zeus, Heracles and Asclepius first): the statue recalls, in particular, the type of Heracles Bibax, attested by many Roman bronze figurines, where the hero appears upright and naked, often wearing a crown.


Marble Mania, New York 2017

Mnemosyne, New York 2015


Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), vol. IV, Zurich, 1988, s.v. Herakles, pp. 767-770, pl. 499-504 (Héraklès Bibax).

Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), vol. III, Zurich, 1986 , s.v. Dionysos, pl. 316-318 (piliers hermaïques), pl. 323ss. (cortèges).

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