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Work Herod Atticus, Philosopher and Rhetor

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Roman Art

The orator and philosopher Herodes Atticus

© 1989 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Roman Art

Author(s):
Lepethouka C

Herod Atticus, the rhetorician and benefactor of Athens who was born around 101 and died c.177 CE, is represented here as a thinker. The slight turn of the head, the pensive expression and the vigor and quality of the execution recall the great masterpieces of Hellenistic portraiture, testifying to the Greek origins of the sculptor and to the survival of a strong sculptural tradition.

Herod Atticus

Born in Attica in 100 CE, and dying c.177, Herod Atticus was a philosopher, politician (as a senator in Rome) and patron of the arts. To him Greece owes the construction or rebuilding of many great buildings, including notably the stadium and the Odeon in Athens.
This draped bust shows a man already in old age, his head inclined in a meditative pose. The features, framed by hair and a beard represented by short, curling locks, are grave. Beneath a forehead marked by two deep lines, the distant expression of the eyes is given life by deep-cut pupils.
This portrait is known in several copies, one of which, a herm found in Corinth, identifies Herod Atticus by name.

Grave goods

This bust was found in a tomb at Probalinthos, near Marathon in Attica. The same tomb yielded a portrait of Marcus Aurelius (Ma 1161) and another of joint emperor Lucius Verus, now in Oxford. This association was by no means fortuitous, for the philosopher Herod Atticus was both friend and teacher to both emperors.
It is possible that the tomb is that of Herod Atticus himself; it is known that he had a villa in the neighborhood of Marathon, the area where he was born and where he ended his days. The bust of Marcus Aurelius dates from 161, when Herod Atticus was some sixty years old, the age at which he is shown here. This bust too may thus be dated to c.161 CE.

The work of a Greek artist

The bust follows in the tradition of portrait busts of fourth-century Greek philosophers and orators: with his head bowed as if deep in thought, Herod Atticus irresistibly recalls Demosthenes or Sophocles.
Nor is it merely an iconographic type that the sculptor has borrowed from Greek art. The restraint of his approach is quite different from the more affected manner of Roman sculptors of the time, recalling rather the Greek sculptural tradition, especially in the fine quality of the modeling and the restrained use of the drill in rendering the hair.
Yet the treatment of the eye, with its iris incised and its pupil carved out, is distinctly Roman, immediately identifying this as a work of the second century CE. Even if he drew his inspiration from Greek art, the sculptor was able to exploit the innovations of Roman artists to make his portrait more lifelike.
This bust may be the work of the sculptor responsible for that of Marcus Aurelius found in the same tomb. Unhampered by the constraints of official portraiture, he would have enjoyed greater latitude in the execution of this likeness of a philosopher than in producing the emperor's portrait. This would explain why his treatment of the portrait of Herod Atticus appears freer, rendering this a true masterpiece.

Bibliography

J. Charbonneaux, "Portraits du temps des Antonins", Monuments Piot, vol. XLIX, Paris, 1957, p. 76, fig. 11

Exhibition catalogue "L'art de Rome et des provinces", Metz, Reims, Strasbourg, Lille, Dijon, Grenoble, Nantes, 1970-1972, n 33

K. de Kersauson, Catalogue des portraits romains, II, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1996, n 132, pp. 290-3

R. Bol, "Die Porträts des Herodes Atticus und seiner Tocher Athenais ", Antike Kunst, 41. Jahrgang 1998, Heft 2, pp. 118-28

A. Stavridis, "Contribution à l'iconographie d'Hérode Atticus", Archeologikon Delfion, 1998, pp. 161-4

Technical description

  • The orator and philosopher Herodes Atticus

    C. AD 161

    Provenance: Probalinthos (Attica)

  • Marble

    H. 62 cm

  • Choiseul-Gouffier collection until 1818
    Pourtalès sale, 1865

    Inventaire NIII 2536 (n° usuel Ma 1164)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Ground floor

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