Explore Collections Explore The Collections
You are here: CollectionsOnline  /  Statuette of Harpocrates
  • image Image 1 for MR45
  • image Image 2 for MR45
  • image Image 1 for MR45
  • image Image 2 for MR45

Statuette of Harpocrates



Height (excluding screw): 10.5cm

Museum number: MR45

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 429help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

Harpocrates, nude, standing with weight on right foot, left foot forward, head turned slightly to the right. On his head is the Uraeus or hawk emblem, the hair arranged in a plait, falls down both sides of the head and on the shoulders. Around the neck is a bulla suspended form a cloth necklace. In the left hand was a cornucopia, part of which remains above the hand; the right hand was raised toward the lips but is missing below the forearm.

This is the Graeco-Roman Horus or Harpocrates, concieved within the Hellenistic vocabulary of artforms, rather than the Egyptianized creation which we see above, classified for this reason with the Eyptian objects (Soane no.24; MR 56). In Hellenistic times the baby god Eros or Cupid was developed into the concept of the Egyptian Harpocrates, the infant Horus, who was originally represented as sucking his finger and later as merely placing it close to his lips. This gesture, in its former form, was erroneously interpreted by the Romans as one of silence, and hence they gave to the child Horus (Har-pa-chrat in Eyptian) the name of Harpocrates, whom they regarded as the god of silence.

There are many bronzes which reproduce a standing figure of Harpocrates identical to the Soane example and many with minor variations in the type and position of the secondary attributes. D.K. Hill1 observes, "Few examples of this type all of them were made in Egypt, but many were found there". There is a tiny winged Harpocrates in silver, found in the Thames near London Bridge, now displayed in the Romano-British Gallery of the British Museum2. The Museum also has a large collection of bronze statuettes of Harpocrates in all sizes and manners of treatment3. De Ridder4 cites find records from Egypt to Gaul5 and such is the pattern throughout most of the major European collections.

In the consideration of relief representations of the Roman Anubis, he has been seen to have our Harpocrates as pendant on the tombstone formerly near the Via Flaminia (see previous, no.428), and Harpocrates also appears on the altar dedicated to Isis in the Capitoline Museum, from the Iseum in the Campus Martius, again as pendant ot the Anubis (see previous6). On a triangular Isiac base in Venice, Isis joins Harpocrates and Anubis in the reliefs in the three side panels7. Statues of Isis are not uncommon, particularly from finds in Rome8, and there is, for example, a statue in marble about 1.50m. high in the Naples Museum of the Anubis of this general type9. The Capitoline Museum 10possesses a lifesize marble statue of Harpocrates of Hadrianic workmanship, and in the Large Cloister of the Museo Nazionale, Rome, there is a headless, marble Harpocrates (no.72854) which corresponds to the version of our bronze with cloak about the shoulders an over the left arm. A lifesize statue found at Chirugan and in the Toulouse Museum11 shows him clothed in a loose tunic. His noted numismatic appearance is on bronzes of Alexandria, both alone12 and standing on a small base between larger busts of Serapis and Isis13.

We may conclude that there were perhaps at least two well known later Hellenistic and Roman cult statues of Harpocrates, and it is one or another, or a combination of these which the majority of surviving similar representations in all media and sizes copy. The first one, which may well be contemporary with Serapis of Bryaxis (ca.320 B.C.)14, stood in Alexandria, and a second in Rome, probably in the Campus Martius where with Isis and Anubis it formed a "triad" of Graeco-Romanized Egyptian divinities. With these three must also be linked the Alexandria Scrapis, the great popularity of which in the Western Roman Empire can be traced as much to the cult statue copy in Rome as to the original representation in Egypt. In Roman decorative art, on terracotta lamps of the late Republic - early Empire we encounter the triad in this popular Hellenistic form - Isis standing between Harpocrates and Anubiz15. The strangest appearance of the Harpocrates of the type echoed in the Soane bronze is also found in a scene at this time in this medium: two further terracotta lamps in the British Museum16 show Isis giving such to a small figure of Horus, which is no less than a tiny figure of Harpocrates in this same now conventional pose.

1Walters Bronzes, pp. 36-39, nos. 68-76, pls.16-18.
2BM, Silver Plate, no. 49, p.V.
3See, Walters, BMC Bronzes, nos.1473-1508, esp.1482.
4Louvre Bronzes, I, pp. 53-54 nos .331, 333.
5op. cit., no.1064.
6And additionally Jones, Cap., pl. 91, no.12b.
7Einzelaufnahmen, 2516-2518; Reinach, Rr, III, p. 432, figs. 1-3 and refs.
8BM, Sliver Plate, nos. 44-46; Jones, Cap., p. 320, no. 14; Amelung, VC, I, p. 45f, no. 31, etc.
9No. 981, from Pozzuoli; remains of caduceus in left hand; Ruesch, Guida, p. 188, no. 706.
10Jones, Cap., pp. 292, 293, no. 28, pl. 71.
11Espérandieu, II, p. 48, no. 923; Reinach, RR, I, p. 448.
12Domitian: BMCG, Alexandria, pl. XVII, no. 306; Hadrian; Magnaguti, Ex Nummis Historia, III, no. 949.
13Hadrian: BMCG, Alexandria, pl. XIV, no. 749.
14Helbig, Führer, nos. 237, 298; but see, Adriani, Atti della Accad.Naz dei Lincei, CCCXLV, 1948, pp. 438ff.
15Birm., Lamps, pl. XLII, shape 25, no. 653, also nos. 721ff., pl. XXV.
16op.cit., nos. 868f.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Unknown; in Soane's collection by the time of the creation of the Model Room in c.1834. Soane describes the showcase containing small items MR42-MR68 in the Model Room in his 1835 Description.


M.B. Comstock/C.C. Vermeule, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Bronzes in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston 1971, no103.

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk