Italian, late 16th century

Bust of Scipio Africanus

Auction Closed

March 22, 07:15 PM GMT


30,000 - 50,000 EUR

Lot Details


Italian, late 16th century

Bust of Scipio Africanus

white marble and bigio antico marble

74cm., 29⅛in. overall

This lot has an artistic export license. Please refer to the specialist department for further information about export procedures and shipping costs.

This powerful all'antica portrait bust is derived from the canonical ancient model which has traditionally been identified as the Roman Republican general and statesman Scipio Africanus (236/235-183 BC) who famously conquered Carthage. The ancient model is best known from a basalt bust which was formerly in the Ridolfi, Cesi, Ludovisi and, finally, Rospigliosi collection (now Palazzo Rospigliosi, Rome). The model exists in numerous ancient versions and later versions, including a bust in the Bibliothèque national, Paris (inv. no. BnF 15-57); Capitoline Museum, Rome (inv. no. MC 562); Chiaramonti Museum, Rome; and Dallas Museum of Art (loan; inv. no. 36.1997). The portrait, which is characterised by stark baldness, with furrowed brow, hooded eyes and fixed gaze, is an exemplar of the veristic 'warts and all' style of Roman Republican portraiture. Its traditional, and romantic, identification as Scipio Africanus was, however, disproved in 1905 by Walter Dennison, who pointed out that the baldness and presence of an X-shaped mark (sometimes tau-shaped or merely a single line) indicates that the sitter (or sitters) represents a Priest of Isis; devotees of the Egyptian cult shaved their heads and even wore tattoos.

The present bust, with its expressive face characterised by deeply excavated folds and lines, arched ocular orbits and tight-lipped mouth, is particularly close to an ancient version of the model in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (Fittschen, op. cit., fig. 17,3). In both busts, we see a vision of the sage-like Scipio who looks out with an impassive gaze upon the ruins of Carthage.

The Pratesi bust is distinguished by its superb set of shoulders, carved from a single block of marmo grigio di Lesbo [grey Lesbos marble]. The present bust may be compared to the output of the celebrated Lombard sculptor Giovanni Battista della Porta (1542-1597) who was active in Rome in the second half of the 16th century and traded in the finest quality marbles. A parallel can be drawn to the celebrated set of mixed marble Twelve Caesars in Galleria Borghese in Rome, which had been executed by Giovanni Battista della Porta circa 1570-1580 and which were eventually acquired by Pope Paul V Borghese in 1609. A comparison between the present bust and certain of the Borghese Caesars does not preclude a possible attribution for the present Scipio to a sculptor working in della Porta's workshop.

A strong comparison for the present bust has been found in a photograph of an unlocated 'Ritratto di Scipione l'Africano' in the Fondazione Zeri Archive (catalogued as anonymous, 17th-18th century, no. 81446).


K. Fittschen, Die Bildnisgalerie in Herrenhausen bei Hannover: zur Rezeptions- und

Sammlungsgeschichte antiker Porträts, Göttingen, 2006; G. Ioele, 'Marmi colorati nella bottega Della Porta: mercato, collezionismo, restauro,' in Splendor marmoris. I colori del marmo, tra Roma e l’Europa, da Paolo III a Napoleone III, atti del convegno, Rome, 2012, pp. 87-104

This lot has an artistic export license. Please refer to the specialist department for further information about export procedures and shipping costs.