Monumental Head of King Nectanebo II

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Monumental Head of King Nectanebo II

Reign of Nectanebo II, 30th Dynasty, 360 - 342 B.C.
Weight: 43kg



A monumental head of Nectanebo II, last native ruler of Egypt prior to the Achaemenid conquest and the Ptolemaic Dynasty. Carved from highly variegated red marble and of impressive size, it would have once stood as part of a full statue of the king, who is depicted wearing a striped nemes-headdress once fronted by a now-missing uraeus cobra. The modelling of the face and the treatment of the eyes, nose and lips bear the stylistic hallmarks associated with Royal sculpture of the 30th Dynasty, features which continue into the early Ptolemaic Period.

Since there are very few firmly dated portraits of Nectanebo I and II, the issue of identification is difficult, but some conclusions are possible. A comparison might be made with the head now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, attributed to Nectanebo II, (accession no. 2000.637 and op. cit., pl. 10c), which features sensitive modelling of the face. As in the case with our head, the eyes are delicately rendered, and the eyebrows are naturalistic and do not feature plastic outlines. A particularly important comparison is the quartzite portrait in the University of Pennsylvania Museum (accession no. E14303, op. cit., pl. 10a), also ascribed to Nectanebo II. Here we see many similar features, including the shape of the eyebrows, the tilt and modelling of the eyes, the spread of the nose, and the deeply-drilled corners of the mouth, with its slight smile.

Once owned by Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke, this head was kept in his Salisbury home, Wilton House, from around the late 17th Century. He wrongly identified the head as ‘Sesostris’ and displayed it in the Stone Hall, together with a portrait of ‘Domitian’, and the supposed likenesses of several Roman empresses or female members of the Imperial family. In the c.1730 manuscript entitled "A Copy of ye Book of Antiquities at Wilton" it is described as "Sesostris; The Head is of red Egyptian Granite; The Bust Part is of the white Egyptian Granite of the very old Termini manner; The Head is adorn'd with a Tiara peculiar from any other, as Egyptian; and it has a peculiar Liveliness from any other Sculpture– it was found amongst the Pyramids." In Cowdry's 1751 description of Wilton's art collections the head is mentioned as being located in the Stone Hall on a bust made of "white Egyptian granite" itself resting "upon a very antient altar of Bacchus;" this cylindrical Neo-Attic marble altar with Dionysiac relief decoration is still at Wilton (inv. no. 1963,10) and is now located in the Cloisters, where Michaelis already saw it in 1873 and 1877 (op. cit., p. 672, no. 1).

In Kennedy's 1769 description the same bust is said to be still in the Stone Hall but resting on a Roman marble sarcophagus with portrait medallion in front (Michaelis, op. cit., p. 702, no. 143), also still at Wilton and now in the Inner Courtyard (inv. no. 1963,26.2). He describes it as “as great a rarity, as is anywhere to be found.”

In 1816 Spiker saw the head displayed on yet another type of support: "A colossal head of Sesostris, in the style of the Egyptian idols, the pedestal highly singular, in the form of a right angled triangle" (probably the marble pedestal of triangular section partially illustrated in the 1961 sale catalogue plate). When Michaelis visited Wilton, the head had already been moved to the Cloisters at Wilton with most of the other antiquities.

An early 19th century poem, which satirizes King George III's visit to Wilton House, mentions the head as the object of a comical misunderstanding:

From Salisbury Church to Wilton House, so grand,
Return'd the mighty Ruler of the Land. "
My Lord, you've got fine Statues," said the King. — "
A few, beneath your Royal notice, Sir,"
Replied Lord Pembroke. — " Stir, my Lord, stir, stir ;
Let's see them all, all, all, all, every thing. "
Who's this ? who's this ? who's this fine fellow here?"— "
Sesostris," bowing low, replied the Peer. — "
Sir Sostris, hey ? Sir Sostris ? 'pon my word !
Knight or a Baronet, my Lord ?
One of my making? what, my Lord? my making?" —
This, with a vengeance, was mistaking! " –

Sesostris, Sire," so soft, the Peer replied ; "
A famous King of Egypt, Sir, of old." — "
Poh, poh ! " th' instructed Monarch snappish cried, "
I need not that, I need not that, be told. "

    - John Wolcot, The Works of Peter Pindar, vol. II, London, 1812, p. 483

This head then passed down the lineage of the Earl and remained at Wilton House until the mid-20th century.


A Copy of ye Book of Antiquities at Wilton, manuscript, circa 1730, 1st Division: Egyptian (British Library, MS. Stowe 1018).
Richard Cowdry, A Description of the Pictures, Statues, Busto's, Basso-relievo's, and other Curiosities at the Earl of Pembroke's House at Wilton, London, 1751, p. 116.
Thomas Martyn, The English Connoisseur: Containing an Account of Whatever is Curious in Painting, Sculpture, &c, in the Palaces and Seats of the Nobility and Principal Gentry of England both in Town and Country, Dublin, 1766, vol. I, p. 192.
James Kennedy, A description of the Antiquities and Curiosities in Wilton House, Salisbury, 1769, pp. XXI and 108.
George Richardson, Aedes Pembrochianae: or a critical account of the statues, bustos, relievos, paintings, medals, and other curiosities and antiquities at Wilton House, London, 1774, p. 112 of 1798 edition.
John Wolcot, The Works of Peter Pindar, vol. II, London, 1812, p. 483.
S.H. Spiker, Travels through England, Wales & Scotland in the Year 1816, London, 1820, p. 150.
John Bull, Thomas Hood, and Charles Lamb, The Laughing Philosopher: Being the Entire Works of Momus, Jester of Olympus, London, 1825, p. 456.
Charles T. Newton, "Notes on the Sculptures at Wilton House," in Memoirs Illustrative of the History and Antiquities of Wiltshire and the City of Salisbury, London, 1851, p. 260, no. 99.
James Smith and Walter F. Tiffin, Wilton and its Associations, Salisbury and London, 1851, p. 181, no. 99.
Adolf Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, Cambridge, 1882, p. 690, no. 99.
A. Blackwood, "Peter Pindar: A Famous Writer Neglected - The Man and his Work," in The New York Times, October 7th, 1899, Saturday Review of Books and Arts, Page BR676
James Parton, The Humorous Poetry of the English Language, from Chaucer to Saxe, Boston and New York, 1900, p. 225.
Nevile Rodwell Wilkinson, Wilton House Guide: A Handbook for Visitors, London, 1908, p. 15, no. 99.
Lewis Saul Benjamin and Lewis Melville, Some Eccentrics & a Woman, 1911, p. 118.
Christie's, Wilton House, A Selected Portion of the Collection of Ancient Marbles formed by Thomas 8th Earl of Pembroke, July 3rd, 1961, no. 100, illus. between pp. 20 and 21.
"Sculptures to be auctioned...," The Times, June 13th, 1961, p. 22, col. A, illus.
"Christie's sell Lord Pembroke's Marbles," The Times, July 4th, 1961, p. 12, col. G.
Jack Josephson, “Egyptian Royal Sculpture of the Late Period, 400-246 B.C.” in Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Abteilung Kairo. Sonderschrift 30, Mainz am Rhein, 1997, p. 26, pl. 9c.
Jaromir Malek, Diana Magee, and Elizabeth Miles, Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Statues, Reliefs, and Paintings, vol. VIII, Oxford, 1999, p. 165, no. 800-872-500.
Jonathan Scott, The Pleasures of Antiquity: British Collectors of Greece and Rome, New Haven, 2003, fig. 205.
Tim Knox, "The Vyne Ramesses: 'Egyptian Monstrosities' in British Country House Collections," Apollo, April 2003
Antiquities, Christie's, New York, 12th April 2018, Lot 60.
Peter Stewart, “A Catalogue of the Sculpture Collection at Wilton House”, 2020, Appendix 1, no. 39, p. 403.
David Aaron Ltd, 2023, No. 3.


“Some Italian gentlemen travelling to the Pyramids in Egypt, discovered it there, and brought it with them” (Kennedy, Op. cit., 1769, p. XXI).
Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke, 1656-1733, Wilton House, Wiltshire.
Henry, 9th Earl of Pembroke, 1693-1749.
Henry, 10th Earl of Pembroke, 1734-1794.
George Augustus, 11th Earl of Pembroke, 1759-1827.
Robert Henry, 12th Earl of Pembroke, 1791-1862.
George Robert Charles, 13th Earl of Pembroke, 1850-1895.
Sidney, 14th Earl of Pembroke, 1853-1913.
Reginald, 15th Earl of Pembroke, 1880-1960.
Sidney Charles, 16th Earl of Pembroke, 1906-1969
Sold at Christie's, Wilton House, A Selected Portion of the Collection of Ancient Marbles formed by Thomas 8th Earl of Pembroke, July 3rd, 1961, no. 100, illus. between pp. 20 and 21.
Mrs Roothoote, 1961, acquired from the above, ‘…for 650 gns.’
Private Collection UK.
Sold at: Christie's, London, December 10th, 1986, no. 186, illus.
Private Collection.
Sold at: Antiquities, Christie's, New York, 12th April 2018, Lot 60.
Acquired from the above sale. 
ALR: S00218854, with IADAA certificate, this item has been searched against the Interpol database.

Note on the Provenance

Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke, 1656-1733, was an English statesmen and Member of Parliament. His main residence was Wilton House near Salisbury, which was renowned for its impressive collection of Antiquities and ancient classical marbles. Most notably the ‘Arundel Marbles’, which had been collected by previous owners of the grand house. During his time at Wilton, Thomas Herbert made it his mission to identify and catalogue the whole collection, but often miss-attributed and engraved pieces with inscriptions in poor Latin and 'sometimes in extremely questionable Greek' (Michaelis 1882, 46). When studying the pieces in the collection, Adolf Michaelis mentioned the extreme level of errors the Earl made in his attributions.

The head remained in the collection at Wilton House and was passed down by descent over eight generations of Earls, until Sidney Charles the 16th Earl of Pembroke (1906-1969) who sold it in an estate sale in 1961.