Lot 39
  • 39

A Monumental Marble Head of Hermes-Thoth, Late Hellenistic, circa 2nd Century B.C.

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 USD
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  • A Monumental Marble Head of Hermes-Thoth
  • Marble and bronze
  • Height 17 in. 43.2 cm.
probably from a standing cult figure of the god wearing a chlamys, turned to his right, his powerful face with strong chin, parted lips, long sideburns, and deep-set almond-shaped eyes originally inlaid with sheet bronze for the eyelashes, marble for the whites of the eyes, and glass or colored stone for the irises and pupils, his hair swept up above the forehead, arranged in rows of short overlapping curls, and bound in a diadem, a square mortise on top of the head with remaining marble tenon for a lotus leaf headdress, remains of drapery folds at the base of the neck, a roughly worked support behind.


Douglas H. Fisher, London, 1950s/60s
Robin Symes, Ltd., London
Albrecht Neuhaus, Würzburg, by 1970
American private collection, acquired circa 1990
acquired by the present owner on the European art market in 2006


The Burlington Magazine, May 1970, p. LXXV (advertisement for Albrecht Neuhaus, Würzburg, with the caption "Hermes of Hermoupolis")
Gérard Siebert, “Hermes,” in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, vol. V, Zurich and Munich, 1990, no. 953a
Robert Steven Bianchi, “The Nahman Alexander,” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, vol. 43, 2007, p. 29, note 6
The Warburg Institute Iconographic Database (http://warburg.sas.ac.uk/vpc/VPC_search/record.php?record=29294)


As shown and described, face and neck mechanically cleaned, scattered chips and abrasions, particularly a large shallow chip to forehead between eyes, proper left cheek, and lower lip, visible in catalogue photo, tips of both wings and top of proper left wing fragmentary, proper right ear fragmentary, proper left ear abraded, iris and pupil inlay material of proper left eye missing, proper right eye with only remains of bronze and marble inlay, plume fragmentary as described the back roughly worked, incrustation remaining on back. Proper left half of upper lip restored.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The pointed lotus leaf headdress (alternatively interpreted as an ibis plume) which originally surmounted the present head is a common occurrence on small-scale Roman bronze figures of Hermes of the "Egyptianizing" type (see S. Boucher, Recherches sur les bronzes figurés de Gaule pré-romaine et romaine, Rome, 1976, pp. 110-112, sometimes with portrait features reminiscent of Ptolemaic princes), but a highly unusual one in marble sculpture. To our knowledge only one other marble head shows this attribute (G. Loeschke, “Hermes mit der Feder. Marmorkopf im Akad. Kunstmuseum in Bonn,” Bonner Jahrbücher, 1901, pp. 48-49, figs. 1-3: http://arachne.uni-koeln.de/item/objekt/2750).

G. Siebert (op. cit.) dates the present head to the end of the Hellenistic period, and includes it in a group of heads of Hermes reminiscent of the style of the Greek sculptor Skopas, particularly in the treatment of the forehead, eyes, and mouth. The other two examples are in the British Museum (A.H. Smith, A Catalogue of Sculpture in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum, vol. II, London, 1900, no. 1462, Siebert, op. cit., no. 953b, illus., and http://arachne.uni-koeln.de/item/objekt/10518) and in Budapest (A. Hekler, Museum der bildenden Künste in Budapest. Die Sammlung antiker Skulpturen, Vienna, 1929, no. 35, Siebert, op. cit., no. 953c, illus.).

The physiognomy, hairstyle, arrangement of the forelocks, and positioning of the diadem are reminiscent of several heads of Herakles all thought to derive from the same 4th Century B.C. Greek original designated as the "Lenbach Herakles" type. See S. Kansteiner, Herakles. Die Darstellungen in der Großplastik der Antike, Cologne, 2000, cat. nos. Lb 8 (British Museum: http://arachne.uni-koeln.de/item/objekt/10713), Lb 11 (Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek: http://arachne.uni-koeln.de/item/objekt/8997), and Lb 12 (Museo del Sannio, Benevent: http://arachne.uni-koeln.de/item/objekt/1822).

For other heads of Hermes with athletic features similar to depictions of Herakles see A. Linfert's entry in Die antiken Skulpturen in Chatsworth, Mainz am Rhein, 1997, no. 27, pls. 26-27: http://arachne.uni-koeln.de/item/objekt/4114, and C. Gasparri, ed., Le sculture Farnese, vol. I, Milan, 2009, pp. 149-150, no. 68, pl. 63.