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Home > Auctions > 7th September 2021 > Large Renaissance Herm Bust of a Philosopher

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LOT 0521

GBP (£) 8,000 - 10,000
EUR (€) 9,400 - 11,750
USD ($) 11,150 - 13,940

Opening Bid
£7,200 (EUR 8,462; USD 10,034) (+bp*)

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Large Renaissance Herm Bust of a Philosopher

16th-17th century AD or earlier

A larger than life composition head of a frowning elderly male with a thick beard, possibly reworked from Roman elements; broad facial features with large nose, sunken eyes beneath prominent eyebrow arches, mouth slightly open and surrounded by thick moustache, the long beard made up of curly tufts; the curly hair covered with a hat or a cap formed of knotted bands (strophion) with voluminous strand falling over the ears back of the neck; the smoothed part of the herm, hidden by the hairs of the beard directed towards the centre of the head, creating a chiaroscuro effect; mounted on a custom-made display stand. 36.5 kg, 52cm including stand (20 1/2"). Fair condition, with restorations.

From an important English collection; accompanied by an academic report by Dr Laura Maria Vigna; this lot has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art and is accompanied by AIAD certificate number no.10748-177458.

See Becatti, G., s. v., Pitagora, in Enciclopedia dell’Arte Antica Classica e Orientale, vol. VI, Roma, 1965, pp. 197-199; Picozzi, M.G.,‘I ritratti dal mare della Meloria al Museo Archeologico di Firenze: fusioni in bronzo da marmi romani,’ in Rivista dell’Istituto Nazionale di Archeologia e Storia dell’Arte, s. III, XVIII, 1995, pp.118-120; Di Cesare, R., ‘Ritratti di intellettuali tra mondo greco e romano,’ in La Rocca, E., Parisi Presicce, C., Lo Monaco, A., Ritratti. Le tante facce del potere, Roma Musei Capitolini 10 marzo- 25 settembre 2011, Roma, 2011, pp. 93-107; Mastronuzzi, G., ‘Immagini di poeti e filosofi della Magna Grecia,’ in Quaderni di “Atene e Roma”, Pubblicazione dell’Associazione Italiana di Cultura Classica, 5; Capasso, M., Cinque incontri sulla Cultura Classica, Lecce, 2015, pp.55-70.

The hair and the untidy beard reproduce the scheme of a philosopher/ writer as it was considered in the Greek and Roman world. In the upper part of the forehead up to the top of the head, there is a large insert probably of restoration, with original parts and restored parts, which does not allow visualising the typology of the headdress. This had to run and knot along the top of the head, according to a typical oriental fashion, which is evident in the iconography of many philosophers and especially that of Pythagoras, in a very similar way to modern turban. The head portrayed pertaining to a philosopher is difficult to identify, it could possibly represent Pythagoras for the type of headdress and for the eyes that are large and almost 'dazzled', but it could also depict Homer or Sophocles. In fact, the probable bronze archetypes, dating back to the end of the 5th-3rd century BC, works of great Greek sculptors, were replicated on copies in marble and again in bronze, used in the house furnishings of cultured characters, especially in study and representation locations. For this reason, the portrait heads were often mounted on herms, easy to place, rendering the portrait of the philosopher without body. In the Renaissance collections, this same custom had as consequence that ancient portrait heads were integrated and inserted on modern herms. The philosopher represented here must have been very important and for this reason the additions are partly ancient and partly successive. It can be assumed we can recognise one of the valuable copies, known in different variants, of the portrait of Pythagoras of Samos, who lived between Crotone and Metapontum between the 6th and 5th centuries BC. The reference to an important Greek archetype is clear. A comparison can be made with the herm of Pythagoras in the Capitoline Museum, however since the model of the philosopher and thinker became a type, beyond the precise identification of the character, some analogies are found with Sophocles, Aeschylus and Homer. The composition of the image for the reconstruction of the iconography is attributable to the Renaissance period, following the technique of execution of the Roman copy of the 1st century AD, period in which this kind of sculpture was widely spread.