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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Head of Sophocles, copy after a Hellenistic prototype of 2nd century BC
Work Type
sculpture, head
1st-3rd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Roman Imperial period, Middle
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Luna marble
30 x 20 x 20 cm (11 13/16 x 7 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.)

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of David M. Robinson.
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Published Catalogue Text: Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums , written 1990

Head of Sophocles

The tip of the nose was broken and cut away and once restored with an iron pin. The back or crown of the head was broken off, cut down, and restored; half the restoration remains. The base of the neck is cut to fit into a terminal shaft. The surfaces are chipped, worn, or weathered, and have been cleaned. Some scholars according to notes in the object file have questioned the antiquity of this head.

Sophocles lived from about 496 to 406 B.C., reaching the height of his political and intellectual career in Athens around 436 BC. Seven complete plays and fragments of others survive from his lifetime production of over 120 plays. The Athenians honored him as a hero after his death.

This head is of the so-called "Farnese" type of Sophocles and takes its name from a herm in the Farnese Collection of the Museo Nazionale, Naples. The Farnese portrait was found in Rome, in the Via Ostiense (Richter, 1965, 1, p. 127, no. 17). The ideal likeness was intended to show Sophocles at about sixty years of age, in 436 BC when Pheidias and Perikles were finishing the Parthenon. The many copies vary widely in quality, from those with the softness of an elder on an Attic grave stele (no. 22, Copenhagen) to those with the metallic harshness and stringiness of the David M. Robinson head (no. 11, Villa Albani). This example wears a fillet or diadem.

Nothing is known of the complete statue from which this head derives, for most of the copies of the head that survive are based on garden herms. However, in support of the antiquity of the Robinson head is the suggestion that it came from a very late and provincial garden herm, like some of those found in the ruins of country villas and parks in Roman Gaul. This head might even have been carved as late as the fourth century of the Roman Empire, in the time of Constantine the Great or Constantius II (A.D. 306 to 337 to 361), when ancient learning was as much admired as it had been in the earlier centuries of the Hellenistic and Roman world. A head of the "Farnese" Sophocles in the collection of Mr. Gilbert Denman, Jr., in San Antonio, Texas, has been recognized as a copy of the Greek original made in the third century A.D.; the original dates from the outset of Hellenistic are in the fourth century BC, about the time when the young Macedonian Alexander the Great was being educated in the great Greek literature of the time (Hoffman, 1970, pp. 75-77, under no. 23). The Denman head has the same rigidity as the D. M. Robinson Sophocles, although the former, sawed from a double herm (with Euripides) has the same drill-work found in Roman sarcophagi from Severus Alexander through Gallienus (A.D. 222 to 268).

Cornelius Vermeule and Amy Brauer

Publication History

  • Fogg Art Museum, The David Moore Robinson Bequest of Classical Art and Antiquities, A Special Exhibition, exh. cat., Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, 1961), p. 27, no. 212
  • Fogg Art Museum Acquisitions, 1959-1962, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, 1963), plate
  • Maureen Russell Neil, "Technical Examination of Five Ancient Marbles" (thesis (certificate in conservation), Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, 1989), Unpublished, passim
  • Cornelius C. Vermeule III and Amy Brauer, Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 56, no. 40

Exhibition History

  • The David Moore Robinson Bequest of Classical Art and Antiquities: A Special Exhibition, Fogg Art Museum, 05/01/1961 - 09/20/1961
  • Ancient Installation at Fitchburg Art Museum, Fitchburg Art Museum, Fitchburg, 09/30/2013 - 01/26/2015

Verification Level

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