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Gallery Text

Greek sculptors occasionally looked back to earlier styles. This head of Hermes is an archaizing work: the rows of corkscrew curls above the forehead go back to the Archaic period (600–480 BCE), while the facial features are in the Classical style of the later fifth century BCE. Hermes, the Roman Mercury, was the messenger god. He was associated with boundaries and led the souls to the underworld. Herms — pillars topped with the god’s head and equipped with genitalia — were often placed to protect crossroads and gates. In Roman times, they decorated villa gardens and gymnasia. There are different explanations for the archaizing features prevalent on Greek and Roman herm heads. Perhaps they were felt to be appropriate for the herm’s primitive sculptural form. Alternatively, they may have derived from a stylistic trend in the work of the Classical Greek sculptor Alkamenes, with whom this statue type has been associated.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Head of Hermes
Other Titles
Alternate Title: The Hermes Propylaios of Alkamenes, copy of original of c. 430 BC created for the Athenian Acropolis
Work Type
head, sculpture
1st century BCE-1st century CE
Roman Republican period, Late, to Early Imperial
Persistent Link
Level 3, Room 3200, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Classical Sculpture
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Physical Descriptions
Pentelic marble; modern beard repaired with carrara marble
33 cm h x 20 cm w x 22 cm d (13 x 7 7/8 x 8 11/16 in.)
David M. Robinson, Baltimore, MD, (by 1960), bequest; to Fogg Art Museum, 1960.
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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This head is possibly modeled on a Greek herm of c. 430-420 BCE.

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

The Hermes Propylaios

Roman copy of an original (ca. 430 B.C.) created for the Acropolis of Athens; fine-grained, mainland Greek marble. The side-locks were made separately and attached with dowels. There is some damage, especially in the hair. The lower part of the beard and the nose are restored. A section of the beard below the mouth is rejoined.

This Hermes has been identified by inscriptions as a variation on two groups of sculptures (the Pergamon-Berlin series and the Ephesos-Munich-Leningrad series) with the work of Alkamenes, evidently set up on the north side of the west facade of the Propylaia (Richter, 1970, p. 182). This creation has been dated in the time of the Roman emperor Augustus (27 BC to AD 14) and shows the good, lively quality of such imperial workmanship from ateliers around Athens itself. A similar herm formerly in the art market in Lucerne suggests that here the beard has been restored with an extra lower row of curls (Ars Antiqua, A.G., 1962, p. 13, no. 49, pl. XVII); another of the Pergamene type, and with a similar, full beard, was long in the Villa Mattei in Rome (Paaribeni, E., 1981, pp. 8-84, no. 2). A herm of the type or types created by Alkamenes with such a long, "triple-decker" beard as restored here would probably have been confused or conflated with the bearded, draped Dionysos "Sardanapallus" identified with a work of Praxiteles in the fourth century BC (Johnson, 1931, pp. 33-34, no. 27).

Such terminal figures or herms, including busts rather than complete shafts, were among the ornamenta or furnishings for courtyards and gardens that Romans of wealth, like Cicero, imported from Attica and elsewhere for their town houses and country villas or estates.

Cornelius Vermeule and Amy Brauer

Publication History

David Moore Robinson, "Unpublished Sculpture in the Robinson Collection", American Journal of Archaeology (1955), 59, No. 1, p. 22, pl. 13, fig. 10

Fogg Art Museum, The David Moore Robinson Bequest of Classical Art and Antiquities, A Special Exhibition, exh. cat., Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, 1961), pp. 27-28, no. 215

James R. McCredie, "Two Herms in the Fogg Museum", American Journal of Archaeology (1962), 66, pp. 187-188, pl. 56, figs. 1, 2

Cornelius C. Vermeule III and Walter Cahn, Sculpture in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, MA, 1977), p. 32, under no. 41

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. 31, no. 16

Exhibition History

The David Moore Robinson Bequest of Classical Art and Antiquities: A Special Exhibition, Fogg Art Museum, 05/01/1961 - 09/20/1961

32Q: 3200 West Arcade, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

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