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Work Imaginary Portrait of the Blind Homer

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Imaginary portrait of the poet Homer

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Thierry Ollivier

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Author(s):
Marie-Bénédicte Astier

This bust is one of many imaginary portraits of Homer, author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, who lived in the eighth century BCE. The poet's features are unknown, but tradition describes him as a blind old man. Sculpted after a second-century Greek original influenced by the Pergamene style, this face uses a realistic vocabulary to depict an idealized portrait of the aged bard inspired by the gods.

An imaginary portrait

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A touch of the baroque

A Roman copy of a Greek original of the first half of the second century BCE, this bust has its roots in Pergamene art, the markedly baroque features of which are exemplified in the Pergamon Altar now in Berlin. In its original form, the portrait would have shown the poet full-length and seated. The image of old age portrayed here is one of great dignity, the restraint of the means employed serving only to intensify this effect. The emotionally powerful treatment of the features, marked by age, underlines the physical decline of an old man. The fixed gaze and the hollow depths of the sockets betray the blindness of the eyes. The poet's hair and the beard, meanwhile, are stirred by the breath of divine inspiration.

An idealized image of the poet

To the Hellenistic age Homer was the quintessential poet, enjoying such enormous popular enthusiasm that he became the object of a cult, and was honored in the same way as a god. Many portraits were created to adorn the scholarly libraries of Athens, Alexandria and Pergamon. This example makes use of a realistic vocabulary to offer a venerable, idealized image of the aged bard, inspired by the gods and dwelling upon his inner vision. Over his forehead is a bandeau or headband that distinguishes him from ordinary mortals.

Bibliography

Visages du Louvre, chefs-d'oeuvre du portrait dans les collections du Louvre, Tokyo, 18 September-1 December 1991, National Museum of Western Art, p. 81, n 28

Hommes et dieux de la Grèce antique, Bruxelles, Palais des Beaux-Arts, 1982, pp. 137-8

G. Richter, Portraits of the Greeks, I, London, Phaidon, 1965, p. 51, n 11, fig. 79-80.

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