Ancient Greek Portrait Sculpture: Contexts, Subjects, and Styles

Hardcover (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $34.93
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 74%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (10) from $34.93   
  • New (5) from $100.17   
  • Used (5) from $34.93   


This book offers a new approach to the history of Greek portraiture by focusing on portraits without names. Comprehensively illustrated, it brings together a wide range of evidence that has never before been studied as a group. Sheila Dillon considers the few original bronze and marble portrait statues preserved from the Classical and Hellenistic periods together with the large number of Greek portraits known only through Roman 'copies'. In focusing on a series of images that have previously been ignored, Dillon investigates the range of strategies and modes utilized in these portraits to construct their subject's identity. Her methods undermine two basic tenets of Greek portraiture: first, that is was only in the late Hellenistic period, under Roman influence, that Greek portraits exhibited a wide range of styles, including descriptive realism; and second, that in most cases, one can easily tell a subject's public role - that is, whether he is a philosopher of an orator - from the visual traits used in this portrait. The sculptures studied here instead show that the proliferation of portrait styles takes place much earlier, in the late Classical period; and that the identity encoded in these portraits is much more complex and layered than has previously been realized. Despite the fact that these portraits lack the one feature most prized by scholars of ancient portraiture - a name - they are evidence of utmost importance for the history of Greek portraiture.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A great virtue of Dillon's study is her attention to bot the Greek setting of the original images and the display of busts and herms, and more rarely full statues of these past men of action or thought in Roman villas and gardens."
-Barbara Tsakirgis, Vanderbilt University

"Portrait Sculpture. Context, Subjects, and Styles... is a great book. ...[I]t is hard to do justice to the many issues that it raises. All the more reason, I think, to use the volume in your next seminar on Greek and Roman portraiture."
-Peter Schultz, Concordia College, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521854986
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 238
  • Product dimensions: 8.74 (w) x 11.22 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Sheila Dillon is Associate Professor in the Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies at Duke University, with a secondary appointment in the Department of Classical Studies. She is the author of The Female Portrait Statue in the Greek World (2010) and co-editor of A Companion to Women in the Ancient World (2012).

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Cambridge University Press
0521854989 - Ancient Greek portrait sculpture - contexts, subjects, and styles - by Sheila Dillon



It is for this reason (pleasure) that men enjoy looking at images, because what happens is that, as they contemplate them, they apply their understanding and reasoning to each element, identifying this as an image of such-and-such a man, for instance.

(Aristotle, Poetics, 1448b.15)1

IN THE COLLECTION OF THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL Museum in Naples is a magnificent marble portrait (cat. A19.1; here, Figs. 1 and 2). The subject is a spirited old man with unkempt hair and a long straggly beard. The locks of the beard are stiff and straight, parted at the center beneath the chin as if matted by dirt and sweat. Unruly tufts of hair spring up over the forehead, while the hair at the sides and back curls wildly in all directions. The face has a distinctly weather-beaten look, as if to suggest a life of toil, with prolonged exposure to the elements. The furrowed brow, crow’s feet, lined cheeks, and loose pockets of skin beneath the eyes mark the subject’s advanced age. Despite such signs of physical decrepitude, the deeply set piercing eyes and strong turn of the head reveal intense mental energy and inner strength. The distinctive expression of the face combined with the style and technique of theportrait suggest that we have before us a Hellenistic philosopher.

1. Cat. A19.1: Naples–Rome Old Man with Matted Beard Type, front. Naples, Museo Nazionale inv. 6136. (Photo: DAI Rome neg. nos. 56.518, Sansaini)

Image not available in HTML version

2. Cat. A19.1: Naples–Rome Old Man with Matted Beard Type, left profile. Naples, Museo Nazionale inv. 6136. (Photo: DAI Rome neg. nos. 56.519, Sansaini)

Image not available in HTML version

   Although this portrait is surely one of the finest and most expressive images preserved from Antiquity, it has yet to find a place in any history of Greek portraiture. The reason for its neglect is not hard to discern – the heads lacks the one feature most prized by scholars of ancient portraiture: a name. We do not know whom this portrait represents. We are denied the pleasure of being able to say “this is so-and-so,” which is one of the reasons, according to Aristotle, that we like looking at portraits in the first place. This lack of identity has made this portrait mostly invisible to modern scholars. It is as if the subject’s anonymity has succeeded in rendering the status of this image as a portrait problematic, has in fact effectively effaced it. And this head is not alone. There are many others like it – although you will not find them illustrated in general studies of Greek portraiture. For what can possibly be said about a portrait if we do not know the identity of the person depicted? The exploration of this question is the subject of this book.

   The almost complete neglect of this large body of material is perhaps not surprising when one considers the many interpretive challenges that must be faced in dealing with these portraits. In addition to their anonymity, the Greek portraits examined here offer added interpretive complexities in their material status as Roman copies.2 While these heads are Roman period artifacts, their style and the format of their presentation strongly suggest that they were based on or derived from Greek portraits of the Classical and Hellenistic periods. That is, they do not look much like the portraits of contemporary Roman subjects, but bring to mind portrait images of the Greek past. These portraits, used mostly as domestic decoration, represented leading figures of the Greek past whom educated Romans greatly admired and whose portrait images therefore served as visual testimonia to their Roman owner’s learnedness. The named examples include well-known subjects such as Homer, Sophocles, Socrates, Aristotle, Epicurus, Menander, and Demosthenes.3 While we know from written evidence that there were portraits of such individuals in the Classical and Hellenistic periods, these portrait statues, mostly made of bronze, do not survive. In fact, while it is clear both from literary and epigraphic evidence that portrait statues constituted a large and important component of Greek sculptural production, particularly in the late Classical and Hellenistic periods, one would never get this impression from the sculptural remains themselves. These later marbles, then, provide us with an important body of evidence for understanding the style and appearance of these earlier Greek portraits.

   In addition to their unfashionable status as Roman copies, we know neither the names of the sculptors who created the artifacts confronting us, nor the dates when they were made. Because these portraits represent figures of the distant Greek past rather than contemporary Roman subjects, I argue that the use of up-to-date technical features such as drilled eyes or a highly polished flesh surface – features that provide some of the best indication of a portrait’s date – was mostly avoided, as was the importation of contemporary portrait styles.4 An up-to-date, contemporary portrait presentation was not, after all, the effect that the sculptors would have been aiming for.5 These portraits in fact defy most traditional art-historical methodological expectations of authorship, chronology, authenticity, originality, and identity. Their neglect is, therefore, hardly surprising.

   I would argue, however, that their neglect has had serious implications for our histories of Greek portraiture. First is the more general issue of using Roman copies to understand something about Greek portraiture. If, for example, we insist on considering only original artifacts, that is, if we take into account only material that is surely Classical or Hellenistic in date, then portraiture as a sculptural category nearly disappears, and we miss completely one of the great innovations of Greek sculptural production.6 The strict reliance on original material is especially problematic for the fourth century, from which very little original material survives, although it is clear from other evidence that the fourth century was a time of great innovation and creativity in Greek portraiture. While the Hellenistic period is better represented, marble statue bodies dominate the extant remains, while portrait heads are much less likely to be preserved. The number of extant bronze portraits, the material of most major portrait commissions, is exceedingly small; Carol Mattusch, who has recently dealt with the post-fifth-century material as a group, discusses only four examples.7 The later marbles, then, are a crucial source of information that we should not overlook. One aim of this study is to deploy the full range of evidence available – the few bronze originals, the extant Hellenistic statues, the later Roman marbles, as well as figural sculpture on gravestones – in order to explore what each of these can contribute to the history of Greek portraiture.

   Second and perhaps more important for the aims of this study is the issue of names, and the preoccupation of most portrait studies with precise identification. Until now the history of Greek portraiture has primarily been written on the basis of the portraits of only about 20 individuals.8 Indeed, a precise name has tended to be the sine qua non of most portrait interpretations. This extremely narrow focus on a small handful of named portraits has, I maintain, produced a history that is too neat and tidy – even deceptively simple – particularly in some of its basic premises concerning stylistic development and subject identification. This narrow focus has also greatly limited the kinds of questions we have asked about Greek portraits, as the interest in and aim to identify and date portraits have tended to foreclose sustained critical analysis of these images as representation. I would like to make it very clear at the outset that I have no interest in giving these anonymous portraits names – naming is not one of the aims of this study. This book is, in fact, written against the grain of a history of portraiture as a history primarily of names and dates. My aim is to explore what happens to our history of Greek portraiture when we vastly expand the range of objects to be considered and interpreted. What happens, that is, when we try to take into account the many nameless bearded faces that line the galleries of many museums?

   While I am interested here mainly in analyzing and exploring the visual language of Greek portraiture, and not in names and dates, I want to acknowledge a tremendous debt to the work of previous scholars, particularly Gisela Richter, whose encyclopedic 1965 three-volume study The Portraits of the Greeks was both a starting point and an indispensable source of information for this project. Richter amassed a vast amount of evidence for Greek portraiture, both written and visual. Her aim was to document “all reliably identified portraits of Greek poets, philosophers, orators, statesmen, generals, and artists...(and) the portraits for which plausible identifications have been proposed,” as well as the portraits known only from written sources.9 Richter’s approach was ambitiously comprehensive; in addition to the reliably and plausibly identified portraits, she also included a fair number of questionable or hypothetical identifications for reasons of completeness. Many of these appear in this study. Her documentation of the material is scrupulously thorough, and she was the first to recognize the value of illustrating as many of the portraits in as many views as possible. Indeed, with over 2,000 photographs illustrating nearly all of the portraits included in Richter’s catalogue, The Portraits of the Greeks is still central to the study of Greek portraiture 40 years after its publication. While the aims and interests of the present study are very different from those of The Portraits of the Greeks, this book would not have been possible without it.

   The material included in this study comprises 108 portraits preserved mostly in Roman marbles; 31 of these unnamed portraits are preserved in multiple examples (from as many as 14 to as few as 2 for a total of 140 individual heads), while 77 are preserved in only a single example. This study thus expands the evidence for the subject of Greek portraiture by about a factor of five. Although their identities were surely once known, these portraits have lost their names primarily, it would seem, through the accident of preservation; that is, they are heads without their inscribed herms, herms without their (in some cases, once painted) inscriptions, and – in the few cases in which we are dealing with full-length statues – statues without their inscribed bases. A dedicatory inscription on a statue’s base would of course have been an essential part of any Greek (or Roman) public honorific portrait statue,10 but such inscribed bases were not regularly included in the display of these portraits in their new Roman domestic contexts, hinting at a functional difference between domestic sculpture and statues in the public sphere.11 Perhaps some of the portraits were immediately recognizable to their audience and so needed no identifying tag. One can easily imagine that this was the case, for example, with such distinctive and popular images as the Hellenistic Blind Homer, the Socrates, and the Menander, few of which seem to have been explicitly named in this way.12 Given the anonymity of the images collected in this study, the regularity with which such portraits were actually labeled with the precise name of the subject deserves some consideration.13 Although we tend to think of a portrait’s identity as one of its most important attributes, how typical was it, in fact, for the subject’s name to be inscribed or painted on the portrait’s herm or bust? The preserved examples suggest, in fact, that such identifying inscriptions were quite rare.14 While we may be missing a large number of painted inscriptions that would alter this impression, the fact is that portraits with names are much less common than portraits without names. The unidentified Greek portraits with which this study is concerned are, therefore, much more typical of this class of material – at least with respect to their lack of labels – than are the named Greek portraits.

   If we do not know the precise identity of these portraits, then how can we be confident that they represent Greeks of the Classical and Hellenistic periods rather than contemporary subjects? Format can be a helpful clue; the mounting of a portrait head on a herm for display is a good indication that the subject represented is Greek.15 For example, of the approximately 34 certainly named portraits of classical Greeks preserved in Roman marbles, all but 1 has at least one example in the herm format.16 In addition, names inscribed on headless herms show a decided Roman preference for displaying Greek subjects in this way – all of the nearly 40 inscribed portrait herms from Roman villas around Tivoli, for example, represent Greeks.17 A portrait preserved in more than one example also suggests that it is more likely we are dealing with the image of a Greek of the distant past rather than with the portrait of a contemporary, as multiple examples of portraits of non-Imperial subjects are exceedingly rare.18 This premise gains additional support when versions of the same portrait type are found throughout the Mediterranean. For example, among the unidentified portraits studied here, versions of the Hermarchus Type B (cat. A1) were found in Alexandria, Naples, Rome, and Ostia; versions of the New York–Rome–Caesarea Type (cat. A11) were found in Rome, Naples, Tarquinia, and Caesarea; and examples of the Striding Poet Type (cat. A14) come from Ephesos, Corinth, and Rome.19 Portraits of non-Imperial subjects would likely have had a more localized distribution.20

   Difficulties and uncertainty, of course, remain, particularly with those portraits preserved in only a single example. For many of these heads, we must rely primarily on their style and appearance in determining whether they belong to the subject category of Greek portrait of the Classical or Hellenistic periods.21 Here the large corpus of late Classical and Hellenistic grave reliefs, the few extant originals from the period, and the named Roman marbles provide us with the basic externals of appearance and the range of available styles around which we can group the unnamed examples. These generally include a beard, a casually arranged, usually short hairstyle, mature to advanced age, a physiognomical style that can range from idealized to realist, sometimes with the expression of thought or concentration, and Greek-style clothes, if some indication of these is preserved. A plainer, naturally casual style of self-presentation can also help to separate the portraits of Classical and Hellenistic Greeks from the portraits of contemporary subjects, particularly in the second century CE when beards and longer hair – now typically “artificially styled and curled” – come back into vogue.22 Indeed, as the portraits of the Athenian kosmetai show, some contemporary portraits were consciously modeled after the images of Greeks of the distant past, particularly during the period of the so-called Second Sophistic.23 While the kosmetai portraits, which were also mounted on herms, generally tend to employ a more elegantly styled appearance and to make more obvious use of the drill, the fact is that some of these deliberately classicizing portraits are very close in their style and appearance to the category of image studied here.24 Given the inherent difficulties of working with portraits without names, I have tried to be conservative in my selection of the material; so while I may have excluded some portraits that in fact belong in this category, I have tried not to include any that were genuinely problematic.25

   Most of the portraits included in this study come from three key sources. Gisela Richter’s The Portraits of the Greeks (1965) included a good number of portraits preserved in more than one version whose identifications were purely hypothetical. Seventeen of these portraits form the core of this study.26 Two early photographic corpora of classical portraiture also provided much of the material included here: Griechische und römische Porträts, a collection of over 1,000 photographs of Greek and Roman portraits published from 1891 to 1942 by P. Arndt and F. Bruckmann, and Die Bildniskunst der Griechen und Römer by Anton Hekler, published in 1912. Both collections included a large number of anonymous portraits and took a circumspect approach to identification; most of the unnamed portraits were simply designated as such. While most of the portraits studied here have, therefore, been published in some form, they have never before been considered as a group. I also include the few unidentified original portrait statues preserved from the Hellenistic period, such as the so-called Delphi Philosopher (Fig. 80, in Chapter 4) and the Kos Hippokrates (Fig. 64, in Chapter 4). Although these statues tend not to be included in studies of Greek portraits preserved in Roman-period versions, they provide important evidence that has to be integrated into the discussion. As one of the main aims of this study is to expand the images we use to construct our histories of Greek portraiture, I have privileged the more obscure portraits that have yet to be the focus of much attention.27


The focus of previous scholarship on the named portraits has shaped our histories of Greek portraiture in important ways. Questions of identity and date, the foundational issues of Greek portrait scholarship, are still the main concerns of most studies. Even more theoretically engaged research stays very close to the named images.28 When the anonymous portraits are dealt with at all, it is usually in order to provide them with an identity. This approach typically involves dating the portrait to a particular decade or quarter century based on an analysis of its style; a name is then proposed, based on perceived similarities between the portrait and descriptions in the literary sources of the physiognomy, character, and personality of a famous person who is known to have died around this date. So, for example, it has been suggested that a fine portrait in Vienna (cat. A12; here, Fig. 3), known in at least four additional versions, represents the New Comedy poet Diphilos for the following reasons: 1) the style of the portrait suggests a date in the first quarter of the third century (Diphilos died either after 289 or 263); 2) the portrait looks like someone from Asia Minor; 3) the short hair and beard suggest that the subject is not a philosopher; and 4) the portrait’s serious expression corresponds to Diphilos’ sad disposition, which is evident from his writings.29 Better known perhaps is the case of a portrait preserved in about seven examples that seems to have been based on a model of the mid-fifth century. The portrait was long identified as the Spartan general Pausanias because, according to Gisela Richter, “the portraits correspond to what is known of Pausanias’ character – a commanding personality, far-sighted, resolute, enterprising, personally ambitious, and not reliable.”30 An inscribed version of the portrait, found at Aphrodisias in 1981, identified the subject as the poet Pindar.31 While these may be extreme examples of this approach, most portrait studies are based on a similar set of assumptions: 1) that any portrait can be closely dated if one analyzes its stylistic details with enough care; and 2) that a subject’s character and public role can be read directly from his portrait image. I find both of these assumptions problematic and particularly unhelpful as strategies for dealing with the anonymous portraits. It will be useful, therefore, to review them in some detail.

3. Cat A12.3: Diphilos Type. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum inv. I 1282. (Photo: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY)

Image not available in HTML version


First is the belief in our ability to date with some precision the Greek models from which these portraits are derived. While I am confident that in some cases broad chronological distinctions can be made, dating many Greek portraits to within a particular decade or even quarter-century on the basis of their style is an extremely subjective endeavor. We simply do not have enough well-dated examples to make such a project possible, and in any case portraits seemed not to have behaved in this way.32 That is, while one can certainly see changes in the styles of portraiture from the Classical to the Hellenistic periods, these changes cannot be charted according to a single gradualist line of autonomous chronological development.33 New styles and modes of expression were certainly added to the existing repertoire of portrait options, but older ones were also retained. By the later fourth to early third century there was a broad spectrum of styles available – you could have the trenchant realism of the Demosthenes at the same time as the smooth classicizing blandness of the Metrodorus. If we did not know the names of these portraits, we would undoubtedly place the Metrodorus much earlier than its current early-third-century date, and the Demosthenes probably much later, using the gradualist scheme of linear development. It was according to this traditional framework, it should be remembered, that an unnamed portrait known in at least three examples had been dated with confidence to the late Republican period. Klaus Fittschen has now convincingly shown that this portrait represents the early Hellenistic New Comedy poet Posidippus.34 We have similar difficulties when we try to accommodate the large number of unnamed portraits: significant gray areas of chronological uncertainty open up, particularly between the late Classical and Hellenistic periods. The anonymous portraits in fact strongly suggest that there was a proliferation of portrait styles and modes in the second half of the fourth century; they document an expressive range that is very difficult to detect if one considers only the named images.

   Literary evidence also lends support to a later-fourth-century context for portraiture’s new expressive range. This is the well-known and much-discussed technical innovation of Lysistratos, the brother of the sculptor Lysippos. Lysistratos’ innovation is described in some detail by Pliny:

The first man to mould a likeness in plaster from the face itself, and to institute the method of making corrections upon a casting produced by pouring wax into this plaster mould was Lysistratos of Sikyon, brother of Lysippos....He introduced the practice of making likenesses, for before him they used to try to make portraits as beautiful as possible. (HN, 35.153)35

By utilizing this technique, the sculptor could begin with a direct record of a person’s physical features, which he could then correct and improve. This new technique perhaps represents a conceptual inversion of the way in which many portraits were made previously, in which the sculptor probably started out with a generic form and modified it with individualizing details.36 As Andrew Stewart has pointed out, this new approach had the advantage of being “exceedingly flexible” in that it allowed a large range of representations to be produced with relative ease.37 Carol Mattusch has recently linked this passage in Pliny with “the use of a more pure form of indirect lost-wax casting,” and she suggested that the process revolutionized the rapidly expanding field of portraiture, with the result that bronze portraits could now be made more quickly, more easily, and more cheaply.38 The number of portrait statues made certainly did increase over the course of the fourth century, and it may have been this increase in demand that helped bring about experimentation and refinements in the casting technique. Lysippos, Lysistratos’ brother, was after all the most famous portraitist of his day, and his talents were undoubtedly in great demand. But visible style changes are not simply the result of artistic creativity; they are also necessitated by changing cultural demands.39 We should, therefore, probably also imagine a relationship between the increase in the number of portrait statues made and the increased use of an individualized portrait style.40 That is, as more and more portrait statues were put on display in the public squares and sanctuaries of Greek cities, there was an increasing need and desire to differentiate between them visually, and the increasingly sophisticated artistic vocabulary and technical skill by which to do so.

   A similar stylistic development can be seen in contemporary grave monuments. According to Johannes Bergemann, a more detailed approach to facial features is first seen in grave monuments of the mid-fourth century that depict multi-figured family groups.41 This more differentiated, “physiognomic” approach to funerary portraiture, which included the introduction of facial marks to signify old age, was developed, Bergemann suggests, in order to distinguish between the different generations represented on these large and more elaborate monuments. Previously, when gravestones typically included only one or two figures, much of this work had been done not by the face, but by the cut and style of the hair and beard and the pose and dress of the figure. However, this did not mean that, once introduced, the more detailed physiognomic style replaced the less detailed and more generic. As Bergemann points out, a less descriptive approach to physiognomy continued to be used in the later fourth century on monuments that depicted only one or two figures. The evidence of the grave monuments, therefore, supports the model offered here of an expanding repertoire of portrait options in which new styles were added but older more traditional styles were also retained.

   This increase in the range of portrait styles is barely visible, however, if one considers only the named portraits. Indeed, Paul Zanker’s important study of the image of the intellectual reads fourth-century portraits essentially as “highly conformist” images that adhere “closely to a standard typology,” while only occasionally reproducing “actual features of a subject’s physiognomy.”42 Many of the named fourth-century portraits, such as those traditionally identified as the retrospective images of Euripides, Aeschylus, and Sophocles set up by Lycurgus in the Theater of Dionysus in Athens probably in the 330s,43 do indeed seem to point in this direction. But they in fact represent only a small part of the available evidence. The portraits presented in this study are evidence of a much more varied and complex tradition of Greek portraiture than one obtains from the named portraits alone. They show a multiplicity of stylistic options and a wide range of portrait styles more commonly associated with the late Hellenistic period; however, given the subjects they represent, and the decided Roman preference for portraits of the Classical and early Hellenistic periods, many of these options and styles were probably available and in use by the later fourth century.44


Second is the issue of identification. The assigning of precise names based on perceived similarities between a portrait and descriptions in the literary sources of the physiognomy, character, and personality of the proposed candidate is complete conjecture; the subjectivity of this approach is exposed by its widely divergent results. One need only list the suggested identifications for a portrait from the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum (cat. B65; here, Fig. 4)45 – Demokritos, Solon, Aristotle, Philopoemen, Thales – to see that such a project is fragile at best. The strong emphasis on identity in the interpretation of portraits makes the anonymous portraits particularly problematic to deal with, as they refuse to be read in this way. They lack an individual outside of the work that one can point to and reference, if only to say that “this is a representation of so-and-so.” An alternate interpretive framework is obviously needed, one that “disrupts the tyranny” imposed by an analysis of portraiture that begins and sometimes ends with the precise identity of the subject.46

4. Cat. B64: Bronze portrait from the small courtyard of the Villa of the Papyri. Naples, Museo Nazionale inv. 5602. (Photo: DAI Rome neg. no. 85.934, Schwanke)

Image not available in HTML version

   A similar set of assumptions – that portraits are visual biographies – underpins interpretations of identified portraits, where the details of the subjects’ lives have tended to impede sustained critical analysis of their portraits as representation. That is, it is very difficult if not impossible to see Plato’s portrait except through the lens of Plato’s writings, or to interpret the statue of Demosthenes without reading into it details of the subject’s political career. Some portrait statues, of course, do ask to be read in this way. The portrait statue of Socrates is perhaps the best and most famous example of a portrait image that aims to be a visual re-presentation of the literary descriptions of its subject’s life.47 Socrates’ portrait in fact so well matches what the viewer knows from literary accounts about Socrates’ physical appearance and the life that he led, that it encourages one to read all portraits in this way. Given the pivotal position occupied by the image of Socrates in Greek portraiture, it is not difficult to understand why biographically driven readings have tended to loom large in Greek portrait scholarship.

   The assumed relationship between portraiture and what we might call archival data, which consists of historical information about the lives, behavior, and character of portrait subjects derived from literary sources, is something that has to be interrogated rather than simply taken for granted. While a portrait statue might give visual form to particulars of a subject’s biography – assimilating Socrates visually, as Alcibiades does in Plato’s Symposium, to a Silenus, for example – a portrait statue might also be actively involved in constructing a subject’s biography. In some cases, a person’s portrait statue may have questioned, even contradicted, received accounts of a person’s character and appearance by presenting an alternative version for audience consumption. Witness, for example, the gap between Aeschines’ characterization of Demosthenes’ “lovely draperies...and soft tunics beneath,”48 and the rough, inelegantly draped mantle worn over the bare chest of Demosthenes’ portrait statue (Fig. 5). A person’s portrait might also be radically redefined over time; the images of Anacreon are a good example. The Archaic lyric poet goes from being represented as an exotic figure with long hair and beard, dressed in an effeminate eastern costume of flowing robes, pointy shoes, and earrings in Attic red-figure vase painting to being depicted in his portrait statue on the Athenian Acropolis as an exemplary citizen of Classical Athens, clothed in heroic nudity, a short mantle carefully draped over both shoulders.49 Seen in this light, portraits are active producers of meaning rather than passive reflectors of meaning produced elsewhere.50

5. Statue of Demosthenes: Vatican Museums, Braccio Nuovo inv. 2255. (Photo: Bildarchiv Foto Marburg neg. no. 1.005.059)

Image not available in HTML version

   A corollary to the approach that treats the portrait as visual biography51 is the widespread belief that a portrait by definition must express corporeal uniqueness, and that a recognizable resemblance to the sitter was an absolute point of reference. The idea of physiognomic likeness has, for example, underpinned much of the previous scholarship on fifth-century portraiture, which has focused primarily on the origins and inception of this physiognomic portrait style.52 Images that are not sufficiently individualized have sometimes been excluded from the portrait category because they do not meet these modern expectations. Gisela Richter, for example, did not include the statues of the Tyrannicides in The Portraits of the Greeks presumably for this reason.53 More recently John Boardman asserted that “Harmodios and Aristogeiton, Kresilas’ Pericles and Anakreon were no portraits,”54 a statement that raises all sorts of interesting questions with which the study of Greek portraiture ought to be concerned. That “likeness” in the sense of a close visual correspondence between a portrait and its subject was not always an overriding concern or aim of Greek portraiture, even in the Hellenistic period, can be seen in a range of visual evidence. For example, while scholars of Greek art do not usually consider statues of victorious athletes as portraits presumably because of their visual homogeneity, the accompanying inscriptions praise the statues as exact likenesses of their subjects.55 The formulaic or type-based way in which individuals are represented on Greek gravestones and in funerary statues suggests that, in this genre too, individual likeness was much less of a concern than the visual expression of a person’s place within a larger framework based on gender, age, and social status. This highly normative mode of representation continued to be used in the Hellenistic period, particularly for portrait statues of women, even though some Hellenistic epigrams praise the realism of female portraiture.56 As the faces of female portraits are all very nearly the same, an actual, verifiable resemblance to the subject – what we might call representational accuracy – was obviously not a core priority, despite poetry’s claims. A similar indifference to physiognomic likeness can be seen in the statue of the so-called Eretria Youth, which represents a certain Kleonikos, and uses an ideal type (a version of the Hermes Richelieu) for the portrait’s head.57

   In the portraits under consideration here, we could point to the striking similarities between the portrait faces of Epicurus and his followers, and by the expressive resemblance of the very real-looking portrait of Demosthenes (Fig. 6) to a head from a late Classical Attic grave relief (Fig. 7).58 Finally, we might recall the well-known interest throughout the history of Greek portraiture in imaginary portraits of long dead figures, such as the images of Homer, or the statues of the three great Classical tragedians, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, put up in Athens in the later fourth century. The sculptors and their patrons would have had no idea what these subjects really looked like; in these cases the rendering of the person’s actual physical appearance was neither an aim nor an issue. And while Lysistratos developed a technique that would have allowed for the exact reproduction of a subject’s features, it is clear from Pliny’s account quoted previously that the wax model served mostly as a starting point from which the portrait was fashioned. Even the contemporary interest in physiognomics,59 a system by which character was deduced from physical appearance, need not necessarily mean that likeness in the sense of an exact resemblance would have been a primary aim of contemporary portraiture.60 On the contrary, the practice of reading faces and bodies suggests that there would have been a great deal of interest in carefully managing one’s portrait (and public) appearance in order to shape and control audience reception.61

6. Bust of Demosthenes, front. Cyrene, Cyrene Museum inv. C17141. (Photo: DAI Rome neg. no. 58.2531, Bartl)

Image not available in HTML version

7. Head from a late Classical grave monument. Athens, National Museum inv. 3483. (Photo: Author)

Image not available in HTML version

   Rather than a faithful and accurate representation of a person’s actual appearance, it might be more useful to consider likeness, in this portrait system, as “a shifting commodity...not an absolute point of reference; idea to be annexed, rather than a standard by which to measure reality.”62 This does not mean of course that some Greek portraits did not aim for an appearance that was individualized and realistic,63 but that even the most descriptively detailed portrait should not be explained simply as a more accurate physical resemblance of its portrait subject.64 That is, even the most realistic-looking portraits should be interrogated as representation rather than simply accepted as mimesis.65 The brilliantly realistic portrait of Demosthenes, we should remember, was made some 40 years after the great orator’s death.

   Finally, sustained critical engagement with the anonymous portraits also compels one to question the assumption, put forward in recent studies,66 that one can easily determine the category of person represented in the portrait on the basis of the appearance of the portrait alone. This approach takes the externals of physical appearance – beard and hairstyle, facial expression – as visual signs of the subject’s public role, and it argues that from these visual clues one can easily distinguish, for example, portraits of New Comedy poets from those of orators, or Stoic philosophers from Peripatetics.67 Such an approach is indeed helpful in that it moves away from the tyranny of “likeness” to read physiognomy and portrait representation as something other than personal and individual. But many of the nameless portraits do not fit into such narrowly defined representational categories.68 This does not mean, of course, that the method itself is completely invalid; aspects of a subject’s public role might indeed inform his portrait image, but they did not always necessarily do so.69 Serious consideration of the unnamed images shows in fact that the representational categories of philosopher, poet, orator-politician, and general were sometimes much less clear cut than has previously been appreciated.

   This book, then, has a much different orientation and set of aims than most previous studies of Greek portraiture, which have tended to focus primarily on issues of identification and date. By focusing on those portraits that cannot be studied according to these traditional perspectives, this study seeks to explore alternative models for interpreting ancient portraiture, which might also affect the way we look at the better-known named portraits. My aim is to open up new interpretive possibilities; new questions should and can be asked of this material.


The first part of this book considers the contemporary Roman context of these portraits, and their material status as products of Roman visual culture. Much recent scholarship on sculptures of Greek style or subject matter made in multiple versions in the Roman period – the “copy” category – has sought to reclaim this material for Roman art history, arguing that one must first analyze and understand these objects in their Roman environment, rather than use them only to reconstruct the history of Greek art.70 This is a welcome development, for these statues are indeed first products of Roman artistic patronage. Much of the recent work critiquing Roman copies, however, has been concerned primarily with ideal sculpture, so that the portraits of the Greeks have yet to be studied from this perspective. Most studies of Greek portraits, on the other hand, never acknowledge this important dimension of the material with which they are concerned, nor analyze its possible effects on the objects of their interest. They simply “see through” the portraits in front of them directly to the supposed model standing behind without considering issues of transmission and reception, thus omitting a crucial first step in the interpretation of this material. Both “faces” of these portraits have to be carefully considered and explored.71 Chapter 2, therefore, examines the kinds of models and working procedures the later sculptors may have used in making these portraits, and the range of formats employed in their display. Chapter 3 considers the Roman contexts for displaying Greek portraits and explores the range of interests that may have guided portrait subject selection. Roman interest in particular periods and certain types of subjects shaped the extant corpus of Greek portraits in important ways. We need to consider these Roman interests in order better to understand what these portraits represent, and how they relate to the overall picture of Greek portrait production in the Classical and Hellenistic periods.

   The second part of the book is devoted to exploring the Greek face of this material. Chapter 4 presents the evidence provided by the unnamed portraits. I have chosen not to present the material either chronologically or according to subject category – that is, philosopher, poet, or orator – as such traditional approaches to portrait presentation do not work well with this material. Arranging the portrait heads chronologically simply served to substantiate a (hypothetical) model of stylistic evolution in which I no longer believe, and that this material seems clearly to undermine. On the other hand, organizing them according to the type of person represented was equally problematic. While I could with confidence classify some of the portraits as poets or philosophers, for example, many more of them resisted this kind of categorization. Because figural sculpture on grave monuments provides some of the best comparative material for Greek portraiture, and because the two genres were clearly closely related in the ways in which they presented their subjects, I have organized the unknowns according to the head types defined recently by Johannes Bergemann that were used to represent adult males on Attic gravestones.72 These head types basically correspond to age categories that are visually defined primarily through the cut and style of the hair and beard. Subjects who were mature but not advanced in age usually wore short hair and a close-cropped beard, while longer hair and beard usually signified more advanced age. Faces vary from an idealized mature physiognomy with few or no marks of age to an aged physiognomy characterized by facial lines and receding hair or pattern baldness. The rendering of physiognomy tends to become more detailed and particular over time. Beardlessness was an option that only a few of our unknowns chose; among our portrait subjects it was clearly a minority choice. This is particularly interesting in that most mature males on Hellenistic gravestones are shown clean shaven, where it seems to have been the “default mode.”

   The approach taken here has the advantage of organizing the material according to categories that would have been meaningful to the ancient viewer.73 By breaking down these portraits into separable, constituent parts – hair and beard style, physiognomic style – this interpretive method also usefully reveals the constructed-ness of these images. That is, rather than reading the hair, beard, and face as a coherent unified whole, a straightforward representation of a particular individual’s features, I treat the styling of hair and beard and facial marks as discrete sites of meaning production, as components in a visual language. This more fragmented approach presents an alternative way of looking at ancient portraits that may prove especially fruitful in dealing with these nameless faces. It moves us away from the notion of a portrait as a direct and unmediated equivalent for the self, treating haircuts, beards, frowns, and furrows as symbolic systems rather than as physical attributes of a particular individual.

© Cambridge University Press
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Facing up to anonymity 1
Ch. 2 Making portraits of the Greeks 15
Ch. 3 Displaying portraits of the Greeks 38
Ch. 4 The appearance of Greek portraits 61
Ch. 5 Greek portraits in practice 99
App. 1 Museum index 129
App. 2 Portrait catalogue 135
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 1 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 7, 2014

    Lovely...! beautiful.....!.... Just enjoy it.....! 

    Lovely...! beautiful.....!.... Just enjoy it.....! 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)