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A white marble sculpture depicts the head of a youth with a broken nose atop a square stone display block.

A white marble sculpture depicts the head of a youth atop a brown square stone display block. The face is turned slightly towards the left, with brown stains on the left cheek and neck, along with lighter staining throughout. The nose is cleanly broken off and there are chips missing from the lips and the right cheekbone. The hair is rendered in loose waves close to the head. The sculpture ends at the bottom with a break at the base of the neck and connects to the block via a short brass rod.

Gallery Text

The objects in this case present different visions of the female body. Statuette or vessel, funerary offering or object of worship, decorative feature or conscious work of art, they would have elicited very different — though not mutually exclusive — responses when seen in their original contexts. Some called for symbolic or religious understanding and were used in ritual, such as the Cycladic figure; others invited their viewers to reconstruct a narrative scenario, such as the Aphrodite binding her sandal; whereas yet others offered visceral aesthetic, sensual, and perhaps even tactile delight. One of the bodies here — Lachaise’s Woman Bending Backward — is not from the ancient world, but, like many other European and American works, depends very much on Greco-Roman models and ideals, even as it distances itself from them, for example with a pose not known from representations of women in antiquity.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Head of a Nymph or a Hermaphrodite
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Head of a Nymph or a Hermaphrodite, copy after a Greek original of the late 4th or early 3rd century BC
Work Type
2nd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Roman Imperial period, Middle
Persistent Link


Level 3, Room 3200, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Classical Sculpture
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Physical Descriptions

Greek marble
15.3 x 9.3 x 11 cm (6 x 3 11/16 x 4 5/16 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Edward W. Forbes, Cambridge, MA, (by 1899), gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1899.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Edward W. Forbes
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 a Nymph or a Hermaphrodite

The nose is broken, and the surfaces have iron stains, especially on the left eye, right cheek, and neck. There is slight chipping on the lips and left cheekbone.

A single figure or a monumental version of a statue related to forerunners of the well-known group of the satyr wrestling with a hermaphrodite. This head, and its complete figure, seems to have been carved in the second century of the Empire. It features more idealization than do the commonest versions of the groups involving a hermaphrodite in compromising poses, and this head might come from a separate, more ideal and reposeful statue of a nymph or a hermaphrodite. Graeco-Roman copyists offer numerous instances of statues produced independently from groups, with appropriate changes or simplifications, to create a free-standing, decorative figure for an urban courtyard or a rural villa with park or garden.

A small statue, with a restored head, of a hermaphrodite holding Eros found in the ruins of a villa near Rome, shows the type of free-standing, decorative statue from which this head could have come. Such statues were carved in Athens and the Greek islands for export to the country seats of Italy (Jones, 1912, p. 181, no. 109a, pl. 42).

The more vulgar Hellenistic and Graeco-Roman heads, with the thick hair of satyrs and the puffy cheeks of a baby, are also found together with satyrs or Pan grasping them and as free-standing figures. An example in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has a large wreath of vine leaves and grapes in the hair, suggesting a young maenad rather than a hermaphrodite. Like the Harvard head, this example is slightly larger than many of the surviving groups and fragments thereof, which were set in the gardens of Graeco-Roman houses and in the niches of baths and gymnasia (Comstock, Vermeule, 1976, p. 126, under nos. 194, 195). In general, when grouped together the childlike nymphs grasp their satyrs by the hair while the hermaphrodites shove them in the face (Ridgeway, 1972, under no. 23, pp. 63, 64, 178-180).

Cornelius Vermeule and Amy Brauer

Publication History

  • Edward Waldo Forbes, Yankee Visionary, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1971), The Checklist, p. 150
  • 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. 78, no. 60

Exhibition History

  • Hellenistic Art: Objects from an Expanded World, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 10/03/2006 - 07/29/2007
  • 32Q: 3200 West Arcade, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at