ROMAN HEAD OF A GODDESS
The Antonine Dynasty ruled between 138 and 192 A.D, under the leadership of four rulers; Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus and Commodus after the Emperor Hadrian named his son Antoninus Pius his heir and successor under the condition that he adopted Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius. They oversaw a period of powerful military rule with many successive building projects and were great patrons of the arts.
This finely carved marble head of a goddess typifies the artistic output of the time – her oval face if beautifully tooled and polished to reveal a smooth and rounded surface, while her expression is softly rendered displaying the virtues of tranquillity and austere power. Her gently downwardly sloping almond shaped eyes have been delicately carved with incised pupils, thin lids and smooth brows, all accentuating her poise and allure. Her slightly turned head gives her a penetrating gaze as her eyes affix on the onlooker from an angled glance – the sculptor was clearly extremely skilled. The goddess could be Artemis or Demeter, both of whom are often depicted in similar styles throughout Antiquity.
The smooth planes on the surface of the head, along with her parted lips and facial configuration. Combined with the complex emotive performance captured in stone are all highly reminiscent of the work Praxiteles. Born in Athens, Praxiteles was the most famous fourth century B.C. Greek artist and the first to ever sculpt a life-size nude, changing the course of art history forever. None of his original works survive but they are known through descriptions by authors such as Pliny the Elder, numismatic evidence and surviving Roman marble copies. During the second decade of the 1st century A.D. the Hellenistic style became increasingly popular with Roman audiences, and was quickly adopted by the Julio-Claudian princesses such as Agrippa the Elder and Tiberius’s granddaughter Juluia for their sculpted portraits. The adoption of this style is particularly traceable through the curled hair close to the crown of the head, with its final stages during Flavian rule exhibiting many tight curls on top of the head.
The Romans voraciously copied Greek sculpture, adoring it for its beauty and principles – normally in marble rather than its original bronze. Numerous methods were employed for their copying, including constructing wooden frameworks measuring between points on the sculpture, which were then traced on to a block of marble to make an exact copy. They were commissioned and sold throughout the empire, often depicting busts of emperors or gods, or mythological scenes and decorated the villas and gardens of the noble classes. Some archaeological contexts have produced marble Roman copies that contain traces of original paint, suggesting they were original brightly polychromatic – something erroneously overlooked during the Italian Renaissance when marble statuary became popular again and was praised for the virtues of its pure white colour. This statue of a goddess, with her wavy parted hair under a bowknot and powerful expression, is highly typical of this period of Roman marble working that inspired the re-emergence of Roman artistic values in fourteenth century Italy. Works like this have come to define both the canon of art history in the West, but also what we value as an idealised beauty.
The British Museum in London contains a particularly similar Parian marble Roman head of a goddess. She too, has her head slightly cocked to one side, with wavy hair parted down the centre and flowing back from her face. The type of join at the neck shows it would have been once attached as part of a larger statue – probably full length, suggestive of how ours would have appeared in full. The British Museum example is listed as probably depicting Aphrodite or one of the Greek Muses in subject, strengthening the idea that ours of Aphrodite. The British Museum example lacks the delicate finesse of our example, with less subtly in its definition – clearly the hand of a lesser sculptor. Of almost identical size, these two statues, alongside various other Roman marble goddess heads in the British Museum collection in varying stages ofcondition, speak of the Roman love for Hellenistic art and its ideals, and the beginnings of the principles of Western art history.
This beautiful sculpture was once pride of place in the antiquities collection of the renowned Academy Award winning composer Bernard Herrmann. Hermann is best remembered for his collaborative projects with the Alfred Hitchcock, having written the scores for Physcho, North By Northwest, Vertigo and The Man Who Knew Too Much. He had also composed scores for Taxi Driver, Citizen Kane, The Day The Earth Stood Still and The Twilight Zone to name a few. His third wife auctioned many of his personal items in 2009 after his death, including this fine statue.
Previously in the private collection of film composer Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975). Herrmann is particularly known for his collaborations with director Alfred Hitchcock, most famously Psycho, North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much and Vertigo.
New York Art Market, 2013.