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Portrait bust of Polydeukes, favourite of Herodes Atticus

138-192 AD
Antonine, date proposed by Poulsen

Large-grained island marble, Naxian or Parian type

Height: 65cm
Height (head): 25cm
Height (excluding pedestal): 54cm

Museum number: M517

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 410help-vermeule-catalogue-number

On display: Sepulchral Chamber
All spaces are in No. 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields unless identified as in No. 12, Soane's first house. For tours https://www.soane.org/your-visit

Curatorial note

Herodes Atticus was a wealthy Greek (Athenian) aristocrat who was also a patron of the arts, philosopher, teacher and writer. He travelled between Greece and Italy and served as a Roman senator, being appointed Consul at Rome in AD143. On the death of his favourite pupil Polydeukes (Polydeuces), in a paroxysm of despair, it is said that Herodes Atticus commissioned games, inscriptions and sculptures on a lavish scale and then died, inconsolable, shortly afterwards.

This bust depicts a youth in his late teens: he has a soft, dreamy face, the character of which is emphasised by the soft treatment of the long hair in straight locks brushed about the forehead, down over the ears at the sides, and over the neck at the back. Although somewhat damaged by exposure to weather, the large mouth and pendulous lower lip give an individual and identifying character to this face. As Poulsen remarked, the head is boldly raised and inclined to the right shoulder. The youth wears a chiton and over it the Greek himation rather than the Roman toga.

There is an exact replica of this bust, more perfeclty preserved, in the Altes Museum in Berlin. In speaking of the Berlin bust1, Neugebauer in a lecture in the Archäologischen Gesellschaft zu Berlin in April 19312 suggested that this and the three other then known copies (a heavily restored head in the little Akropolis Museum3, a head in the National Museum, Athens4, and another5), along with an eighteenth century reproduction in Cassel, Germany6 were portraits of the student Viballius Polydeukes who was heroized by the wealthy Athenian Herodes Atticus in imitation of Hadrian's attentions to Antinous and of whom, like his more famous counterpart, Herodes Atticus commissioned busts and statues. The fact that both Herodes Atticus and Polydeukes were Athenian Greeks and that all other copies, excepting a head of unknown provenance in Florence7, another (undraped) bust which passed through the hands of Spink and Son, London in the 1950s (of which Vermueule had a photograph), and including that in Berlin8 originate in or remain in Athens, certainly suggests a similar provenance for the Soane bust and makes the Romano-British character of this and the similarly weathered busts in Greek marble which follow difficult to believe. If this youth did suffer an early death we must eliminate the Munich bust9 mentioned by Poulsen from the possible list, for not only are the lips different but the young man has a full beard. The head from Ephesus in the Ny Carlsberg Glypothek in Copenhagen10 connected by Poulsen with the Polydeukes portraits, is not a replica but as a modification is quite close to the head of the unbroken statue of the youth as Apollo in the Museo Torlonia.

If we are to imagine Polydeukes as a minor Antinous we should search, to see if there are any portraits which present the youth under the divine guise so frequently found in statues of Hadrian's favourite and whether the influence of Herodes Atticus was sufficient to spread the cult of Polydeukes beyond the Attic city. The statue of a Hadrianic youth as Apollo, found in the vicinity of Ardea and now in the Museo Torlonia11, presents all the facial characteristics suitable to the heavier cast of the Polydeukes features and hairstyle seen in the Copenhagen head. The Torlonia statue is paralleled by another representation of the heavier Polydeukes facial type as Apollo, in the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery, Kansas City.12 If we have in this portrait a second type of the Attic youth, then he is also presented in the taste of the numerous Antinous statues which present that youth as Bacchus or another divinity. Together with such a statue of Antinous (a head in Bacchic guise on a statue of the Delphic Apollo), the Baths of Leptis Magna in Libya yielded a statue of a youth in the guise of a magistrate, or more likely a youthful philosopher-poet, which presents a portrait of the same youth represented in the Torlonia statue.13 The striking fact about the type of the Soane bust is that all traceable replicas come from Athens, whereas the portrait of the Torlonia statue is presented under several aspects from scattered centres throughout the Empire. The Berlin-Soane features are more refined, almost sensuously dreamy and suggestively repulsive; the second portrait type is of solid and not unhandsome youth with the best features of the Athenian ideal preserved in the hairstyle. The conclusion which can be drawn from such findings is that the Berlin-Soane type was the "Athenian" portrait in purely Greek dress for domestic use, while the Torlonia head appeared in connection with statues set up throughout the Empire in imitation of those Antinous.

Finally, it is not impossible that the so-called "Neon" in Madrid14 presents a portrait of Polydeukes in which the features as well as the concept of the bust are modelled on those of Hadrian's favoured youth. Dr E. Paribeni has discovered a portrait of Polydeukes in the Palazzo Barberini which is unpublished and concerning which he has promised a note incorporating his news on the Torlonia and Leptis portraits, in addition to much valuable information supplied here.15

1 Blümel, Römische Bildnisse, p. 30, no. R72, pl. 44.
2 Arch. Anz., 46, 1931, p. 360; Die Antike, X, pp. 99ff.
3 See L. Von Sybel, Katalog, no. 4129; Arndt-Bruckmann, 1198f, figs.506.
4 See Arndt-Bruckmann, figs. 3-4.
5 no.3468: Arndt-Bruckmann, figs. 7-9
6 Bieber, Cassel, p.33fl., no.56, fig.5
7 Einzelaufnahmen, 4094
8 Bes. ant. Skulpt. p. 164, no. 413.
9 Einzelaufnahmen, Ser. IV, no. 1018.
10 F. Poulsen, Cat., p. 487, no. 696; Antike Kunst, pl. LVIII.
11 Visconti, Album, no.71, pl.XVIII, no. 71, cp. pl. XXXII, no. 126.
12 Collection Hanabock, Plate; from the Lansdowne Collection sold at Christie's 5th March 1930, p. 69, no.105; Michaelis, no. 34.
13Bartoccini, Africa Italiana IV, p.163ff., 174ff.; D.E.L. Hayes, Ancient Tripolitania, pl. 10.
14 Arndt-Bruckmann, no. 800.
15 See R. Bianchi Bandinelli, Rome, The Late Empire, New York, 1971, p. 297, fig. 275. The Soane bust of Polydeukes is also discussed in AJA, 58, 1954, p. 255.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Unrecorded. Vermeule considered 'there seems every external indication that Vermeule 410-413 (M517; M1028, M1029 and M1026) entered the collection from a common (antique?) source.


W. Wegner, Herrscherbildnisse, p. 288.
Neugebauer, Arndt-Bruckmann, 1198f., figs. 1-10.
C. Blümel, Berlin Katalog, V., Römische Bildnisse, p.30, pl. 72.
A. Hekler, in Arch. Értesitö, xliii, 1929, pp. 9,12, fig. 5.
F. Poulsen, Greek and Roman Portraits in English Country Houses, Oxford 1923, p. 94, no. 81.

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