Powerful and imposing, this large-scale Neoclassical marble bust is derived from the head of Menelaus from the Pasquino group, one of the most celebrated antiquities, of which two principal versions exist, one in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence (recorded in 1501) and another in Rome (recorded in 1570) reputedly found in the Mausoleum of Augustus. The group represents the episode in Homer’s Iliad when Menelaus supports the lifeless body of Patroclus on the battlefield. The inclusion of laurels around the body of the helmet is reminiscent of late Baroque sculpture, and can be seen in works by Giuseppe Rusconi (Fortitude with Two Morning Putti, 1734-1736, S. Giovanni in Laterno) and Pierre-Étienne Monnot (Fortitude) (see Engass, op. cit., figs. 26 and 229). The subject locates the present sculpture to Florence or Rome, whilst the style of carving (high quality polished surfaces) lends weight in support of a Roman attribution towards the end of the 18th century or the beginning of the 19th century. It should be noted that a Bust of Menelaus was discovered by Gavin Hamilton at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli in 1771 and was installed in the Vatican. A drawing of the bust survives in the British Museum attributed to Vincenzo Pacetti (inv. no. 2010,5006.1707), a significant Neoclassical carver and restorer of antiquities in the closing decades of the 18th century. Pacetti used the model for his terracotta Achilles and Penthesilea (1773, Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, Rome; Peters Bowron and Rishel, op. cit., pp. 273-275), underscoring the currency of the model at that time. The present very finely carved Grand Tour bust is likely to have been made by a sculptor of similar standing within Pacetti’s Neoclassical circle.
R. Engass, Early Eighteenth-Century Sculpture in Rome, University Park and London, 1976; E. Peters Bowron and J. J. Rishel, Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century, exh. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Art and MFA Houston, 2000